Evaluating young sires is one of my favorite studies, both for my bloodstock work with Thomas Herding Technique (THT) and my handicapping.
Recognizing trends early is a path to value. The earlier you make an accurate read, the better. As evidence mounts, the public gradually catches on.
One of this year's more interesting first-crop sires is Curlin. A two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin won 11 of 16 starts, including the Preakness, Breeders' Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup.
All of Curlin's wins came on dirt. He finished second to Breeders' Cup Turf winner Red Rocks (Ire) in his only grass race - the 1 3/8-mile Man O'War Stakes - and ahead of another Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now and subsequent multiple Grade 1 turf winner Grand Couturier (GB). It was a very good performance considering it was his first turf start and only his second start back from a two-race campaign in Dubai.
In his only start on a synthetic track, Curling finished 4th behind Raven's Pass, Henrythenavigator, and Tiago in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic. It was the final race of his career and clearly below his best form. How much Santa Anita's synthetic track contributed to his off effort is debatable. Many dirt horses struggled on that surface, but Curlin also may have been slowing down in the latter half of his ambitious four-year-old campaign.
Curlin was so talented and gritty he probably could have been trained to run on anything, but his stride, tracking speed and powerful, sustained pace played out best on dirt. He won at distances from 7 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. In addition to a very respectable run at 1 3/8 miles on turf, Curlin also ran admirably at 1 1/2 miles when he lost a head decision to the great filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Curlin (who was carrying five more pounds than the filly) ran his final quarter mile in the Belmont in about 23-4, one of the fastest in recent history.
When evaluating his progeny, keep in mind that Curlin won his debut in February of his three-year-old season. His peak performances came midway through his three-year-old year through the first half of his four-year-old campaign. Curlin's progeny should not be expected to show their best form at age two.
As of today, Curlin has 12 winners from 37 two-year-old starters. Two of those winners came in Russia.
Here are my notes on his 10 two-year-old winners from America and England:
Savanna La Mar: Filly broke her maiden going 7 furlongs on the turf at Chester. She also finished second in a stake at Sandown and 4th in a Group 3 at Newmarket.
Palace Malice: Probably Curlin's highest regarded colt, Palace Malice ran a pair of quick races last summer in New York. In his debut he finished second to Carried Interest, who came back to finish second in the G2 Futurity Stakes. When Palace Malice broke his maiden in his second start, he beat subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Hightail back to third. No published works since the win, and I read that sore shins ended Palace Malice's juvenile campaign. He is a talented, gritty colt with a potential classic distance aptitude.
Watrugonnadorosie: Broke her maiden in her second career start going 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy sealed surface at Belmont. Note that Curlin was 2-for-2 in the slop, including his powerful 4 1/2-length win in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth.
Liberated: Debuted with a nice run going 6 1/2 furlongs in the mud at Ellis Park, then third at the same distance in a strong maiden race on Keeneland's Polytrack. I thought it looked like she didn't relish the Poly that day, although perhaps she just ran into a tough field (2nd-place finisher Flashy Gray came back to win by 10 at Churchill) Switched back to dirt and stretched out to a mile, Liberated broke her maiden nicely at Churchill Downs in her third start.
Flash Forward: Following a pair of poor performances on the turf in New York, they dropped her in for a $50,000 tag and she responded with a gutsy 3/4-length win going 7 furlongs in the slop.
Moulin de Mougin: Finished 8th in her debut on Del Mar's Polytrack, then broke her maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf. She then faced males when finishing 5th (of 10) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint Preview. I am interested to see what she can do on dirt and/or going longer.
Lady of Luck: Won
her debut at Ellis Park going 5 ½ furlongs on dirt despite looking like a route horse.
Under a hustling ride from the start, she settled in between horses, then
produced a strong, sustained rally to win going away by 2 ½ lengths. In her second start she ran third in a nW1X going 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland's Polytrack. This was the second time at the Keeneland meet I thought a Curlin struggled a bit with the synthetic surface. Lady of Luck has some quality and she could be a bet next time on dirt.
Evolutionary: Finished a troubled, distant third sprinting 5f on Arlington's Polytrack in her debut. She came back and won going 6f on the dirt at Remington Park.
Stopshoppingdebbie: Broke her maiden by 7 lengths in her debut at Emerald Downs. Not sure if she beat anything, but she looked great. Although she won here going 5 1/2 furlongs, she didn't look like a sprinter to me. Looked like she can handle much more distance. I wouldn't be surprised if she got privately purchased off this impressive debut.
Curlamorous: Broke her maiden in her debut for a $20,000 tag at Delaware Park, then came back to run second by a nose for claiming $25,000. She was just a $14,000 purchase at the two-year-old sales, so maybe she has some issues, but she at least looks like a runner at her level, and she hasn't stretched out yet.
Conclusions: It is early, and Curlin is still developing as a sire, but several trends that mirror his profile as a racehorse already are apparent.
Curlin's progeny are winless in eight starts on synthetic surfaces. They have finished second once and third four times. There isn't enough data to stamp Curlin a negtaive influence on synthetic (or turf), but at this time I will stick with his default profile of being best on dirt.
Distance-wise, the Curlins already have won from 5 1/2 furlongs up to 1 1/16 miles. I will not hesitate to bet them going up in distance, and many times a little extra ground could be to their benefit. Curlin won with grit and sustained speed, and that profile is very apparent in his first crop. Curlin has classic distance potential as a sire.
I am viewing Curlin as a move-up sire in the slop, particularly on sloppy sealed tracks.
Considering that Curlin did not race at age two, there is a very good chance we haven't seen anything close to the best of his progeny. They should improve at age three.
Despite beginning his career with an exorbitant stud fee and the fanfare befitting of a two-time Horse of the Year, expectations have tempered from the standpoints of bloodstock and betting. Curlin's advertised stud fee will be down to $25,000 in 2013, and his yearling average dropped from $136,000 in 2011 to $78,000 in 2012. From a wagering standpoint, I don't sense people are betting his progeny on his name alone. At a minimum, Curlin will be a sire of solid rachorses. He may be approaching underrated territory.
I will close with Curlin's emotional conformation profile, which my boss at THT Kerry Thomas OK'd me to share here. For those unfamiliar with THT, think of this profile as a measurement of class, presence, temperament, and distance aptitude. Note that we have "recommended for breeding" less than 10% of the sires we have inspected.
Curlin: A very strong, well-rounded horse. Great stimulus interpretation. Reads intentions very well.
Distance focus is very strong. He is in control of everything around him.
Communicates with his environment very well. Slightly
hotter females would be ok with him. He could stretch out more precocious
mares. A mid-range focus female would be safe for him. He has a lot of
overriding qualities that could pepper/strengthen his mares. Recommended for breeding.