Magic Formula for Curlin Succession

With barely a dozen race days to be eked out of its remaining two years, the Steve Pini Memorial S. of September 2017 formed part of a pretty low-key bookend to the history of Suffolk Downs. The Boston track’s opening era, after all, had been propped up by Seabiscuit himself. But it turns out that this race, honoring the late track superintendent, deserves a rather lengthier footnote than anyone might have imagined at the time.

Over an extended mile of turf, a 5-year-old daughter of Big Brown overtook Queen Caroline (Blame) in the stretch before going clear by 1 3/4 lengths. On her 16th start, it was an overdue black-type success for Puca, who had in younger days started one of the favorites for the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and also (after running second in the GII Gazelle S.) been deemed worth a crack at the GI Kentucky Oaks.

Having meanwhile added the fourth stakes prize of her own career, Queen Caroline followed Puca to a graded stakes at Belmont the following month. Against this stiffer competition, however, neither was able to land a blow. A few days later Puca was sold at Keeneland, to Thomas Clark for $275,000, and subsequently booked to the rookie Gun Runner; while Queen Caroline, a year her junior, persevered for one more campaign before being retired and sent to Violence.

Puca elevated her value pretty steeply when sold a second time, carrying her Gun Runner foal, to Grandview Equine for $475,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Fall Mixed Sale of 2018. She was a beautiful, black-type mare and her page was decorated by half-brother Finnegans Wake (Powerscourt {GB}) as winner of the GI Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

Once she had safely delivered a filly, Puca’s new owners utilized a share in Good Magic for her next cover, which encounter produced a colt on 18 April 2020. That September, they offered her Gun Runner filly at Keeneland, but she failed to meet her reserve and was retained at $70,000. Sent into training with Kenny McPeek and named Gunning, she has won three of seven starts and earned a second black-type podium just a few days ago.

Queen Caroline’s date with Violence had meanwhile resulted in a 3 February colt, sold to Silver Hill Farm at Keeneland that November for $80,000. He proved a pretty marginal pinhook, realizing $110,000 from Repole Stable & St. Elias, deep in the following September Sale.

Puca’s Good Magic colt had made $235,000 earlier in the same auction, sold through Runnymede Farm–where he had been foaled and raised–to New Team. He, too, was just a solid pinhook through the next cycle, getting to $290,000 when sold through Sequel Bloodstock to Ogma Investments at Timonium.

As you will doubtless have recognized by now, if you didn’t already know, the 1-2 in the Steve Pini Memorial have meanwhile become celebrated as the respective dams of Mage (by Good Magic out of Puca) and Forte (by Violence out of Queen Caroline). The two sons reversed their mothers’ Suffolk Downs form in the GI Florida Derby, but a rather wild move on the much less experienced Mage had convinced many that he could progress past the champion juvenile in the GI Kentucky Derby.

That subplot, of course, has been deferred after the 11th hour withdrawal of Forte. But even the first Saturday in May is only one leg of an epic journey. Mike Repole can comfort himself that Uncle Mo, another champion juvenile in his silks scratched late from the Derby, has amply redressed that disappointment in his stud career. And doubtless those associated with Good Magic feel rather less aggrieved about bumping into a Triple Crown winner in his own Derby, now that he has retrieved the top of their class in the sires’ table–whether by cumulative earnings, or in the second-crop championship.

Both Good Magic and Justify contested a gripping freshman title last year, every cent counting for much of the campaign, but in the end Bolt d’Oro made his numerical advantage tell, with $2,815,623 banked by 80 starters, over Good Magic ($2,533,414 from 65) and Justify ($2,478,038 from 71). (It is only fair, at this point, to stress again the excellent yield-per-starter achieved from smaller books and fees by the likes of Army Mule, Girvin and Oscar Performance.)

Of the trio, however, it was Good Magic who was first to the Grade I breakthrough with Blazing Sevens in the Champagne S.; and now he has added the Derby itself. In the process, he becomes a poster boy for the commercial inundation of new stallions–albeit their collective books are such that elite success, somewhere among each intake, should really be considered not just imperative, but inevitable. Those that don’t take their big chance soon find themselves swirling round the plug-hole, and even coming up with Always Dreaming from his debut crop couldn’t prevent the export of Bodemeister to Turkey. As things stand, however, Good Magic appears to be laying down some patently sustainable foundations.

Just getting into contention for the freshman title, after all, had suggested that he is replicating an unusual precocity by the standards of his sire Curlin. Having run second in a Saratoga maiden and again when fast-tracked to the Champagne, Good Magic claimed a unique distinction in breaking his maiden in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He duly consolidated at three, winning the GII Toyota Blue Grass S. and GI Haskell S. besides seeing off all bar Justify at Churchill. Though he backpedalled off the stage in the GI Runhappy Travers S., he had banked just shy of $3 million across nine starts.

Coming under the inspired management of John Sikura and his team at Hill ‘n’ Dale, at an opening fee of $35,000, Good Magic faced the same challenge/opportunity as the likes of Vino Rosso, Connect, Global Campaign and Known Agenda: namely, to volunteer himself as the premier heir to their sire. Though Curlin has now had consecutive sons produce a Derby winner at the first attempt, that admirable creature Keen Ice has undeniably struggled for commercial recognition. So while Curlin remains lord of the manor at Hill ‘n’ Dale, he’s approaching the evening of a great career at 19 and for now the succession appears wide open. The outlying speed of Cody’s Wish will obviously make him an interesting pretender to the crown, as we saw again on the Derby undercard. But Good Magic is positioning himself pretty formidably, his fee having already turned round to $50,000 (from $30,000) after the endeavors of his debut crop.

Besides two elite scorers, that crop has included a second Derby runner in GIII Sham S. scorer Reincarnate; plus winners of the GII Sorrento S, GII Remsen S. and GIII Iroquois S. And while Bolt d’Oro was the only one of three freshman title protagonists actually to elevate the yearling average of his second crop, Good Magic again excelled relative to conception fee. The 94 processed from his first crop (110 offered) had averaged $151,708; while last year 74 yearlings sold (87 offered) at $130,250. If his third book suffered the customary slide, it remained more than respectable at 92 mares and he will now surely be back on the way up.

When retired to stud, Good Magic‘s racetrack credentials were backed up by a physique that had as a yearling secured a seven-figure Keeneland September docket from E5 Racing. His breeders at Stonestreet then struck a deal to stay aboard. His granddam, after all, had been one of the first building blocks in their program: Magical Flash, a daughter of distaff legend Miswaki purchased for $140,000 at the Keeneland November Sale of 2004. She was rising 15 at the time, but channelled speed, class and also precocity. Her half-sister Magical Maiden (Lord Avie) had won a Grade I at two, as did Magical Maiden’s daughter Miss Houdini (Belong To Me). Since then, moreover, Miss Houdini had added fresh luster to the family by producing champion female sprinter Ce Ce (Elusive Quality).

Magical Flash (who ended up producing no fewer than 14 winners, including a graded stakes winner on turf by Chester House) similarly brought to the surface some of the genes that appear to have contributed to the sharpening of Good Magic. For instance, a daughter by Smarty Jones was group-placed in France over just five furlongs; while another, by the sturdy influence Prized, managed to produce an Exchange Rate colt fast enough at two to win the GIII Bashford Manor over six furlongs.

Magical Flash’s daughter by Hard Spun, Glinda The Good, won two stakes and was also placed at two in the GIII Pocahontas S. And it was her mating with Stonestreet’s dual Horse of the Year that produced Good Magic.

In fairness, Hard Spun has proved a vital late conduit (and remains an outstandingly well-priced one) to the breed-shaping Danzig. So who knows, maybe Good Magic‘s damsire–himself a Derby runner-up–contributed much to the thwarting of his own son, Two Phil’s, last Saturday!

Danzig’s presence behind Good Magic‘s damsire is one of the obvious pegs to the mating that produced Mage, in that he recurs on the bottom half of the pedigree through his grandson Big Brown, the sire of Puca. Danzig’s replication in the fourth generation is matched by another ubiquitous modern influence, Mr. Prospector. His grandson Curlin sired Good Magic, while one of his rather less potent sons, Silver Ghost, is responsible for Puca’s dam Boat’s Ghost. (Mr. P. is further represented by his son Miswaki, don’t forget, as sire of Magical Flash.)

The overall seeding of the maternal family is less familiar, admittedly, Big Brown and Silver Ghost being followed by Summer Squall and a forgotten son of Raise A Native, Native Royalty. It’s an old American line that eventually takes in some Greentree royalty, notably a 10th dam who was half-sister to 1931 Derby and Belmont winner Twenty Grand.

By now all that stuff is obviously quite attenuated, and Puca’s dam–stakes-placed in a light career and dam, as noted, of a Grade I winner on turf–was actually sold (in foal to Raging Bull {Fr}) at Keeneland only this January at the age of 19. I’m pleased, but unsurprised, to see that this indignity was relieved, at just $17,000, by that exemplary farm Nursery Place. If they can just get a filly out of the venerable lady, they’ll have a half-sister to the dam of a Derby winner.

As for the people who have Puca herself, well, we visited Robert Clay to hear about Grandview Equine’s program just before the Derby. The founder of Three Chimneys candidly acknowledges Mage as rather a windfall. Along with various partners, and with the counsel of Solis/Litt, he bought Puca to support a portfolio that included some Good Magic shares. The principal objective, however, had been to develop yearling colts with stallion potential. They achieved just that with Olympiad, but must now feel very relieved that Puca’s date with that horse did not come off, meaning that she instead returned to Good Magic. Moreover the failure to meet her reserve of Mage’s half-sister, Gunning, has now turned into another wonderful stroke of luck.

As and when Mage proceeds to stud, incidentally, I think he might repay European attention. We noted how Good Magic‘s granddam produced some pretty smart turf performers, while his grandsire Smart Strike and damsire Hard Spun have both proved flexible influences. More proximately, however, don’t forget Puca’s switch to become a stakes scorer on grass; nor that her sire Big Brown started his own career on that surface.

In the meantime, let’s hope that Mage’s delayed rematch with Forte will eventually put some sunshine back into the headlines. True, it’s poignant that the “prequel” takes us to another depressing tale, in the closure of Suffolk Downs. But there are doubtless plenty who, in missing their sport in Massachusetts, in particular miss Stephen J. Pini after his premature loss in 2015. Pini, his father and grandfather had between them worked at Suffolk Downs every day since it opened in 1935. It’s nice, then, that a race contested in his memory should now have been rendered so significant by the protagonists’ sons.

But then this is a game full of concentric fortunes. Here was Rick Dutrow, for instance, saddling his first starter (and winner) in 10 years on the very day that his own Derby winner, Big Brown, became damsire of another one. (And if we think this was a tough Derby day, just scroll back to that one…)

Puca was co-bred by Paul Pompa, Jr. in support of Big Brown, the horse he had bought and then raced in partnership, as he tried to make his way at stud. Then she, in turn, was deployed by Clay and his partners on their stake in another young stallion. And now the daughter of a Derby winner who confounded nearly all precedent, having made just three starts beforehand, has produced another to do exactly the same.

There’s no formula, no wand to be waved. But sometimes things just seem to work as if by “Magic.”

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