Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' multiple Grade 1 winner Curalina has caused plenty of excitement in her nine race career. But that's to be expected from the 4-year-old daughter of Curlin, who was bred in Kentucky by Susan Atkins' CASA Farms—because the excitement of Thoroughbred racing is what actually inspired her creation.
Susan Atkins, 70, along with her late husband, Clint Atkins, were strangers to the breeding business just 12 years ago, although they knew the racing game moved them. The couple, who would have celebrated their 53rd anniversary this year, ran a successful real estate business in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois. Then, with virtually no experience, Susan and Clint decided to buy a Kentucky breeding operation in 2004.
The pair purchased the former Mare Haven Farm near Lexington, and renamed it CASA Farms for their initials. Casa also means "home" in Spanish, something very important to the Atkins family—which includes three children, 11 grandchildren, and one great grandchild.
"I was so excited by it all," said Susan Atkins. "Out of that excitement came (my breeding of) Curalina."
The Todd Pletcher-trained filly had an outstanding sophomore campaign in 2015, winning four of seven races, punctuated by consecutive victories in the Acorn at Belmont Park and Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course, where she finished a scant nose behind I'm a Chatterbox but earned a trip to the winner's circle via a disqualification.
Earlier this year, on May 6 at Churchill Downs, Curalina returned to the races off a seven-month layoff to post an ultra-impressive 7 1/2-length win in the La Troienne beneath Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. She covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42.45, pulling away from the competition through the final furlong.
On June 11th, Belmont Stakes day, Curalina will enter the starting gate in the $1-million Ogden Phipps Stakes, a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series "Win and You're In" race for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff.
"I feel that everything on the farm has been a learning experience, even the mistakes. I wouldn't have done any of it over. It's all part of the learning curve," said Susan Atkins. "But you always hire someone with more knowledge than you. You listen and observe. Be hands-on. Take on one concern at a time, not everything at once."
Susan Atkins had been impressed by Curlin on the racetrack and Stonestreet Farm was just down the road from her.
"Curalina was bred the year Clint passed away, that same spring," said Susan Atkins. "I knew that Curlin was a big fella and (Curalina's Grame Hall dam) Whatdreamsrmadeof is a nice-sized mare with a beautiful temperament."
When Curalina was a weanling, Susan Atkins enjoyed watching her feisty play in the field from her window.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners acquired the chestnut filly for $125,000 at the 2013 Keenland September yearling sale. She has so far bankrolled $1,190,940 for her owners with a 5-2-2 record from nine starts.
"I'm not surprised that Curalina is back (and winning again). Sometimes you just need to give them time (off). I think she'll have a great summer and an even better fall," said Susan Atkins. "I admire Todd Pletcher. He knows when to give them a break. I feel so fortunate to have bred Curalina. I'll be watching (the Ogden Phipps) on TV and rooting for her."
Susan Atkins still owns Curalina's dam, and she has been bred back to Curlin. Whatdreamsrmadeof has also produced the stakes-placed Dream Spinner (by Hard Spun), who has a yearling by Tale of the Cat and was bred to Bodemeister this season.
Among Curalina's competition in the Ogden Phipps will be fellow Pletcher trainee Stopchargingmaria, who won the Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff to close out the season last year, and returned with a runner-up finish to multiple Grade I winner Sheer Drama in the April 9 Madison at Keeneland. Seeking a rematch, Sheer Drama ships in from Gulfstream Park for trainer David Fawkes.
Stonestreet Stable's Cavorting also runs; she recently scored a dominating victory in the Ruffian at Belmont Park after jockey Javier Castellano employed new tactics by giving the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained runner an off-the-pace ride. Florent Geroux will be aboard for this race with Castellano riding Stopchargingmaria.
Charles Fipke's homebred Forever Unbridled, who captured her first graded stakes in the Apple Blossom on April 15th, will be sent out by Dallas Stewart; Carrumba is the sentimental favorite for the Phipps family; and longshot Desert Valley completes the field.