CURLIN ended 2012 as a Top 10 freshman sire by earnings, and, led by horses like the Grade 2 performer Liberated, his runners really started to come on at the end of the year. Now, two months into the new year, CURLIN’s runners continue to improve in leaps and bounds, and on the last weekend in February, no fewer than three of his runners put themselves on the Classic trail with big performances.

In the $400,000 G2 Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds, the Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice finished third in a blanket finish in one of the track’s premier preps for the Kentucky Derby. Owned by Dogwood Stable, the Lane’s End sales grad (and $200,000 Keeneland April grad) rallied from near the back of the pack under pilot Rosie Napravnik, who was full of praise for the colt.

“He ran a great race,” she said. “We got beat half a length for everything, so for his first race around two turns and all that, I think it was an excellent race.”

It was just the fourth career start for Palace Malice, an impressive maiden winner at Saratoga last year who was making his initial start beyond seven furlongs.

One race earlier on the card, another youngster by CURLIN, the filly Blue Violet, followed up a 9 1/4-length maiden win at Fair Grounds with a third in the $200,000 G3 Rachel Alexandra S. The Susan Knoll homebred, trained by Larry Jones, was bumped at the start, but put in a good four-wide run to fill the show spot.

“This filly’s getting better,” said Jones. “I had her mother (Gasia), and I’m seeing a very similar pattern, but this filly is getting better faster than her mother did, and her mother was a G2 horse. Every race is a continued improvement.”

The following day, Stonestreet Stable homebred Countess Curlin registered her third straight daylight victory with a convincing win in the Island Fashion S. Sent off as the crowd’s 6-5 favorite, the chestnut relaxed in a mid-pack position before rallying clear to a four-length win. She is now unbeaten around two turns. Second by a neck on debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs, she aired by 4 1/2 lengths in a one-mile maiden special in December, then put up a similarly dominating performance winning by the same margin in a one-mile NW2L. Countess Curlin is trained by Steve Asmussen.

CURLIN’s big weekend follows a series of eye-catching performances already this year.

Earlier in the month, on Feb. 15, Jias Curls, bred by George Bolton and Roger W. Honour and sold by Lane’s End, broke her maiden at Oaklawn by 1 1/4 lengths. Her owner is Wesley Melcher and she is trained by W. Bret Calhoun.

On Feb. 19, in her first start this year, Hopelands ran off with a MSW by 4 1/2 lengths at Sam Houston. Bred by John H. Adger, Hopelands is raced by Haynes Stables LLC and her trainer is Michael Stidham.

In January at Gulfstream, the smartly bred Flash Forward, a $180,000 KEESEP yearling and a half to seven stakes performers, improved her record to two wins in three dirt starts in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer. Off to a slow start and left nine lengths off the leaders in a Jan. 3 event, the Dominick Schettino-trained miss powered up four wide into the lane and sailed clear to a 2 1/4-length win. Flash Forward won a Belmont maiden in October and ran fourth in the G2 Demoiselle S. at Aqueduct in November. Flash Forward’s siblings include GSW & G1SP Take the Ribbon, SW Bright Magic and SW Hot War.

CURLIN had two standout winners on Jan. 18. At Santa Anita, the handsome sophomore colt Curly Top earned his diploma in a $57,000 maiden special going a flat mile. Always in the mix, he bid alongside the highly regarded Footbridge in the deep stretch and wore down that foe to win by 3/4 lengths. Owned by Mercedes Stable and trained by Bob Baffert, Curly Top finished second in his two previous efforts. The $235,000 Lane’s End grad was bred by Nuckols Farm, Graeme Lang and Will Farish. He was produced by SW & MGSP Top Notch Lady (Sultry Song).

So what’s all this mean? It means keep an eye on CURLIN – things are about to get exciting! Oh, and call Gemma or Jill to discuss a season!

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