If you listened closely enough at Gulfstream Park after the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III) March 1, you could almost hear the cheers from California, and perhaps beyond, as Gala Award entered the winner's circle.
The victory came just weeks after the death of his breeder, Bill Currin. The Southern California-based owner, breeder, and trainer died Feb. 11 at age 77 in Solana Beach, Calif. after a long illness.
Currin's widow, Betty, who was married to Bill for 58 years, suspects Currin didn't miss the March 1 race at Gulfstream.
"I believe he was watching down from heaven," Betty Currin said. "It was just extraordinary for our family; just extraordinary."
Campaigned by owners associated with John Magnier's Coolmore operation in Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier, Gala Award held off a late charge from grade III winner Mr Speaker to post a half-length victory in the Palm Beach, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.
Gala Award has raced exclusively on turf in winning two of his first three career starts, but with Triple Crown season approaching, trainer Todd Pletcher is considering a stakes start on dirt or a synthetic surface--perhaps the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on the Polytrack at Keeneland--for the son of Bernardini .
"He's been improving. His dirt works have improved a lot," Pletcher said after the Palm Beach win. "I'm not going to rule out something like the dirt or the Blue Grass. I think with today's effort he put everything in play and we'll see where we go from here."
Such a start would greatly improve the chances of Gala Award living up to a prediction by his late breeder made shortly after Coolmore bloodstock agent Demi O'Byrne purchased him at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale for $1,550,000 from the consignment of Bill and Betty Currin, Valkyre Stud, agent. That price made him the most expensive horse ever sold by the Currins and the second highest-priced North American yearling of 2012.
"We were so thrilled," recalled Betty Currin. "Then after all of the hoopla of the bidding, all that excitement, we were talking and Bill said to me, 'I really believe this horse is going to win a Triple Crown race.' "
Bill Currin did watch Gala Award secure his maiden win Jan. 20 at Gulfstream Park. Gala Award, by Bernardini--Wilshewed, by Carson City, is a half brother to grade I winner Stormello, by Stormy Atlantic . A homebred for Currin and Alvin Eisman, and trained by Currin, Stormello won the 2006 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). Stormello finished off the board in the 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
This spring the Currin family plans to travel to Catherine Parke's Valkyre Stud in Georgetown, Ky. to spread some of Bill's ashes there, where Wilshewed and all of the Currin mares reside. A dream scenario for the family would be a Gala Award start in the April 12 Blue Grass at Keeneland, as the family would time their visit to coincide with Lexington's major Derby prep race.
Gala Award is the third stakes winner for Wilshewed, who also has produced 2012 Del Mar Derby (gr. II) winner My Best Brother, a full brother to Stormello. Wilshewed boasts five winners from six starters and Gala Award is her first winner not by Stormy Atlantic. She is expected to deliver a full sibling to Gala Award later this month.
Currin purchased Wilshewed for $125,000 at the 2001 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of selected 2-year-olds in training from the consignment of Jockey Club Farm, agent. Currin and Eisman then campaigned Wilshewed, who earned two placings in 10 starts.