After plodding along near the back of the field, Unitarian unleashed an energetic burst of speed down the Keeneland turf course and wore down War Dancer to win the $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIT) April 25 (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old son of Pulpit scooted clear to a 1 1/4-length triumph at 18-1 odds under Javier Castellano and posted his first stakes win in the feature race on closing day of the Lexington track's spring meeting.
Tracking from midfield early, War Dancer grabbed the lead from pacesetter Tattenham at the eighth pole and opened a clear lead. The War Front colt could not stem the closing rally of Unitarian, however, yielding in the closing strides to hold for second. He finished another 1 1/4 lengths in front of 9-2 favorite Temeraine, who raced evenly to hang on for third by a neck over Suntracer in the 13-horse field.
"I really liked the way the race unfolded for a come-from-behind horse," Castellano said of Unitarian, who relaxed in 11th and 12th in the early running, then was angled eight wide and uncoiled a determined outside stretch run.
"I took my time. It's a mile-and-a-half race. It's a long distance. The first two turns I saved all the ground. The way the race developed worked out great for me. My horse gave me a good run the last part of the race. When he saw the daylight turning for home, he took off."
A homebred trained by Todd Pletcher for Robert S. Evans, Unitarian was timed in 2:32.50 for the 1 1/2 miles on turf rated as good. His career line improves to 4-3-4 from 15 career starts with earnings of $331,480. He came into the Elkhorn after finishing last of seven Feb. 22 in his stakes debut in the 1 1/8 mile Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. IIT), in which he did not handle the grass at the New Orleans track. But stretching out to the Elkhorn distance for the first time, he took care of business.
"I think he fits these kinds of races and he continues to improve like we thought he would," Pletcher said. "With a little more improvement, maybe he can step up a notch."
Unitarian paid $38.80, $19.80 and $12 to key a $551.80 exacta with War Dancer, who returned $9.80 and $6.80. Temeraine brought $4.20.
Unitarian is a Kentucky-bred colt out of the stakes-winning Dynaformer mare Minimalist, a daughter of Irish group III-placed Gdansk's Honour, ancestress of multiple grade I winner General Quarters and Japanese group winner A Shin Top.