There's something heady about the early days of a brilliant runner's career, when a horse has done just enough to make headlines but is yet untested at the highest level. Anticipation rises with higher stakes, all eyes on a contender who could be any kind of legend.
To this exciting teritory comes Jimmy Jerkens with Unified, the undefeated colt who bypassed the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) to run in the June 19 Betfair.com Pegasus (gr. III) at Monmouth Park. A Centennial Farms syndicate of 12 partners could have urged for the bigger test June 11 off the 3-year-old colt's May 14 score in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II), but trust in their down-to-earth trainer and a long-term goal kept them grounded.
"There was no issue with not running in the Belmont," said Centennial president Don Little Jr. "Even though it's a syndicate, it's small, and the people involved are horse people and they understand we always do what's right by the horse. They get it—we're patient, we really trust Jimmy's decision-making, we don't question anything really, they're very confident and pleased with the results."
While Unified cuts back from the 1 1/8-miles run around one turn in the Peter Pan to two turns at 1 1/16 miles for this race, the Pegasus should tell these connections what they need to know of their runner, who has taken three starts—two of them stakes—with ease. Will he stretch out in the summer to contest the hottest sophomore races in the land, or will he stay sprinting and target a race like the King's Bishop (gr. I)?
"This is a good test to see which direction we really want to go," Little said. "We know he has some speed, I wouldn't say he rated in the Peter Pan, per se, but he didn't go right out to the lead instantly, he had a horse go out in front of him first.
"I'm sure everybody wants to see what kind of horse we really have here. It's still a bit of a question mark as to whether he can get a distance of ground or not. His pedigree suggests he should, his running style leaves a bit of doubt. We'd like to see him handle two turns, able to relax a little bit. Everything looks good as of right now."
Unified, who has the highest career Equibase speed figure (111) of any in the seven-horse field, should easily handle these. His prime competition could come from local last-out allowance winner Awesome Slew, trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., who returned to win that May 21 event after sitting on the shelf since a fourth in the Sanford Stakes (gr. III) last July at Saratoga Race Course.
Another interesting contender is Parx Racing shipper Abiding Star, who won five in a row and then finished 11th in his most recent start, the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Also shipping from Parx is Saratoga Jack, who went wire-to-wire on a sloppy track May 22 to take a Parx allowance event by 10 3/4 lengths. He has the closest Equibase speed figure to Unified in the field, a 102 earned for that win.
Though the field looks soft for this upcoming test, Little remains realistic.
"We thought this was a good way to get him prepared for a step into a grade I in the next start or two," he said. "He's had three starts and he's undefeated and he's got tallent, but a lot of horses have shown talent in their first three starts to remain undefeated.
"We've been associated with a lot of good horses over the years but I don't think we've had one that's gone three in a row and remained undefeated. He's shown brilliance at times, and Jimmy will do the right thing by the horse, and we'll see how he comes out of this effort."
Monmouth Park, Sunday, June 19, 2016, Race 10
- 1 1/16m
- 3 yo
- 5:24 PM (local)
|1||1Awesome Slew (FL)||Paco Lopez||116||Edward Plesa, Jr.||6/1|
|2||2Extinct Charm (NY)||Dylan Davis||116||Bruce R. Brown||15/1|
|3||3Saratoga Jack (PA)||Jose Luis Flores||118||Miguel Vera||6/1|
|4||4Unified (KY)||Jose L. Ortiz||123||James A. Jerkens||1/1|
|5||5Memories of Winter (KY)||Jose C. Ferrer||116||Anthony R. Margotta, Jr.||30/1|
|6||6Donegal Moon (KY)||Joe Bravo||116||Todd A. Pletcher||3/1|
|7||7Abiding Star (FL)||J. D. Acosta||120||Edward T. Allard||5/1|