If I were to tell you that a certain American stallion had only ever been represented by seven runners in Britain, two in Ireland and three in France, you could be forgiven for thinking that he must be some relatively obscure individual – especially when the stallion in question is already 19-years-old.
However, there is absolutely nothing obscure or second class about this stallion. As a racehorse, his seven Grade 1 victories included the second leg of the American Triple Crown, plus the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. And his current fee of $225,000 makes him one of the highest-priced stallions in the US, second only to multiple champion sire Into Mischief. The size of his fee reflects the fact that he has rarely finished out of the top four stallions in recent years, at the same time becoming North America’s leading sire of Grade 1 winners in both 2021 and 2022. And at the Breeders’ Cup, he has sired winners of the Juvenile, Classic, Sprint, Dirt Mile and Distaff, with the last three being added to his CV during a gloriously rewarding few hours on November 5 last year.
The stallion, of course, is Curlin, who spent the first seven years of his stallion career at Lane’s End Farm before being switched to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms. The switch occurred after majority owner Barbara Banke, of Stonestreet Farm, sold 20 per cent of the stallion to Hill ‘n’ Dale’s John Sikura in September 2015, a year in which Curlin’s fee had stood no higher than $35,000. In fact, Curlin’s fee had mainly been in the region of $25,000 to $40,000 during his seven years at Lane’s End but those seven years yielded no fewer than ten Grade 1 winners and among them were Palace Malice (Belmont Stakes), champion filly Stellar Wind, Curalina (Coaching Club American Oaks), Keen Ice (Travers Stakes), Exaggerator (Preakness Stakes), Connect (Cigar Mile), Vino Rosso (Breeders’ Cup Classic) and Good Magic (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile).
Curlin’s fee had mainly been in the region of $25,000 to $40,000 during his seven years at Lane’s End but those seven years yielded no fewer than ten Grade 1 winners
This list doesn’t just highlight Curlin’s ability to sire top-class performer after top-class performer. It also acts as a reminder that his success at the top level has been based on his dirt performers, hence the comparative lack of interest in bringing his progeny to Europe. According to the Blood-Horse Stallion Register, only around 13 per cent of Curlin’s progeny earnings have come on turf. That said, the versatility being shown by some of Kentucky’s most promising younger stallions, such as Justify, American Pharoah and Bolt d’Oro, should arguably encourage a less black-and-white approach by Europeans.
Curlin, after all, was far from disgraced on his only appearance on turf. On that occasion, in the Grade 1 Man o’War Stakes in 2008, Curlin finished second to Red Rocks, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf 20 months earlier. In third place behind Curlin was Better Talk Now, a veteran whose major successes also included one in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Curlin’s sire Smart Strike also had a respectable record with his turf runners, which included English Channel, a champion who developed into one of the most consistently dominant sires of turf performers in recent years.
All the signs are, though, that Curlin’s legacy will be his impact on the US’s top dirt prizes, including the Triple Crown. Curlin himself was tough enough to contest all three legs in 2007. Despite having been beaten eight lengths into third place behind Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby, Curlin managed to turn the tables two weeks later in the Preakness, where his last-ditch effort snatched victory by a head from the Derby winner. Three weeks later he went close to taking the Belmont, but found the concession of 5lb to the filly Rags To Riches just too much.
Curlin has already been represented by winners of two legs of the Triple Crown, thanks to the Belmont Stakes success of his first-crop son Palace Malice and the 2016 Preakness Stakes win by Exaggerator. He has also gone close to completing the treble in the Kentucky Derby. Exaggerator had run on to finish second of 20 to Nyquist and two years later it was the turn of Good Magic to chase home the unbeaten Justify. Derby success may yet come Curlin’s way, but he has already been beaten to the prize by one of his stallion sons, Keen Ice, whose first-crop son Rich Strike wore down Epicenter to take the 2022 race at odds of 81/1. Rich Strike, by the way, has the distinction of being inbred 3 x 2 to Curlin’s sire Smart Strike.
With the points race to contest the 2023 Kentucky Derby complete by mid-April, the Curlin clan was again well represented. Highest ranked at that point, in sixth place, was Curlin’s son Lord Miles, who achieved a career high on his fifth appearance, when he landed the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes in a three-way photo. Further down the top 20 were grandsons of Curlin, all from the first crop by Good Magic.
The parallels between Curlin and Good Magic are quite pronounced, including their physical appearance (though Good Magic isn’t as big as his 16.2-hands sire and is more correct). Bred by Stonestreet, Curlin’s majority owner, Good Magic was knocked down for $1,000,000 as a yearling, with Stonestreet retaining an interest alongside new partner E5 Racing. A promising second on debut at Saratoga in August, Good Magic was immediately pitched into Grade 1 company in the Champagne Stakes, in which he finished a fine second, beaten only half-a-length by the high-class sprinter Firenze Fire. Good Magic was therefore still a maiden when he lined up for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but he proved easily the best, having more than four lengths to spare over Solomini, another son of Curlin, with the odds-on Bolt d’Oro only third.
Good Magic took the Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old male but his nemesis, the Triple Crown winner Justify, hadn’t raced at that age. Good Magic’s Classic achievements amounted to a second in the Kentucky Derby and a close fourth in the Preakness. Maybe the sloppy tracks in these Triple Crown races were also less than ideal, as Good Magic bounced back to record a dominant win in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational over a fast mile-and-an-eighth track.
A disappointing effort in the Travers Stakes led to Good Magic being retired well before the Breeders’ Cup and he promptly joined Curlin at Hill ‘n’ Dale, starting out at a fee of $35,000 before having his fee adjusted to $30,000. The fact that his fee for 2023 stood at $50,000 highlights the excellent start made by Good Magic’s first runners in 2022. In a very hot contest for first-crop sire honours, he finished second to Bolt d’Oro, ahead of third-ranked Justify. With his 128-strong crop being smaller than Bolt d’Oro’s (149 foals) and Justify’s (157), Good Magic sired 21 winners from 65 runners and no fewer than six of them scored at black-type level.
Good Magic matched Justify’s total of four Graded/Group winners
More importantly, Good Magic matched Justify’s total of four Graded/Group winners. First came the filly Vegas Magic, winner of the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes in August, and she was quickly followed by Curly Jack (Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes in September), Blazing Sevens (Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in October) and Dubyuhnell (Grade 2 Remsen Stakes in December). One of his Listed winners, Bat Flip, did well on turf.
With two sons among the final field for the Kentucky Derby, it goes without saying that Good Magic is building on this fine start. The lightly-raced Mage took on Forte, a triple Grade 1 winner as a two-year-old, in two of the Florida preps and he did particularly well to finish second to him, after being worn down close home, in the Grade 1 Florida Derby (sponsored by Curlin at Hill ‘n’ Dale). This highly progressive colt improved on that again for trainer Gustavo Delgado to win the Kentucky Derby, in which Forte was a last minute scratch. In the process, Good Magic became the second consecutive son of Curlin to sire a Kentucky Derby winner after Keen Ice, sire of Rich Strike.
Reincarnate first drew attention to himself when he became Good Magic’s fifth Graded winner with his victory in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. Since then he’s added more points with his third places in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
With six Graded winners already from a crop of 128, Good Magic is justifying his position as heir apparent to Curlin at Hill ‘n’ Dale. He is the fourth son of Curlin to sire a Grade 1 winner, following Palace Malice, Keen Ice and Connect. In common with many another leading sire, Curlin’s reputation as a sire of sires is mixed at present but with considerable potential.
Although Palace Malice has a Grade 1 winner to his credit, his fee at Three Chimneys Farm has fallen to $7,500, down from a peak of $25,000. Then there’s Exaggerator, a triple Grade 1 winner at three who also boasted excellent juvenile form. He started out at $30,000 but now stands at $5,000 in Louisiana.
One son of Curlin whose career seems to be on an upward trajectory is Connect, who retired in 2018 to Lane’s End Farm, the former home of Curlin. Connect had a few obstacles to overcome. A May foal, he raced only once at two before improving in eye-catching manner at three, when he turned in his best performances later in the year. After taking advantage of a 3lb weight allowance to beat the notable Gun Runner in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, Connect finally became a Grade 1 winner against older horses in the Cigar Mile Handicap.
Good Magic is the fourth son of Curlin to sire a Grade 1 winner, following Palace Malice, Keen Ice and Connect
It seemed fair to expect a fine four-year-old campaign from Connect, especially when he made a successful return to action in the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes over a mile, but a soft-tissue injury ended his career. Confirming that it was his late birthday which had limited his own juvenile career, Connect finished a fine third behind Gun Runner among the first-crop sires of 2021, with the Grade 1 winner Rattle N Roll and Grade 3 winner Hidden Connection underlining his talent. This early success led to high demand for Connect’s services in 2022, so he will be one to watch out for in a few years’ time.
We perhaps won’t have to wait as long to see the best of some of Curlin’s other stallion sons, such as Vino Rosso, whose first crop races in 2023. Another contemporary of Justify, Vino Rosso earned a shot at the Classics with his victory in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial but had to be satisfied with ninth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes.
Fortunately, Vino Rosso proved much more effective as a four-year-old, when he crossed the line first in three Grade 1s over a mile-and-a-quarter, most notably the Breeders’ Cup Classic which he took by more than four lengths from McKinzie. Spendthift Farm – renowned for making stallions – stepped in to secure Vino Rosso’s services and he attracted no fewer than 238 mares in his first season and a total of 563 mares in his first three years. At the same time, Spendthrift has been reducing his fee each year, to maintain numbers, and Vino Rosso was available for $15,000 this year, from an original $30,000. As he won both his starts at two, Vino Rosso should be able to make a quick impact and his two-year-olds have already sold for up to $550,000.
There are several more Grade 1-winning stallion sons in the pipeline. Global Campaign, a winner of the Woodward Handicap based at WinStar Farm, will have his first runners in 2024; Known Agenda, a Florida Derby winner who stands alongside Vino Rosso at Spendthrift, follows a year later; and Idol, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, covered his first mares at Taylor Made in 2023.
Elite Power, whose victories in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Riyadh Dirt Sprint entitle him to be considered Curlin’s fastest son, should be highly popular if and when he retires to Juddmonte, and the Godolphin team must be looking forward to welcoming Cody’s Wish after his Grade 1 wins in the Forego Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
But will any of them be given a chance to make their mark in Europe?