Unified prevailed by a neck over the fast-closing 4-5 favorite to win his fourth race in five starts.
The 4-year-old Candy Ride colt launched his career at Gulfstream Park with another gate-to-wire victory just more than a year ago, before scoring back-to-back graded stakes wins in the Bay Shore Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack and the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park. His highly-promising sophomore campaign came to a screeching halt after finishing a distant fifth in the Pegasus Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park in June.
"He's a fast horse. He proved that last year," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "He trained really super the last three weeks. He didn't really like breaking from the (post 1). But when you're fresh like this and come popping out of there, you end up being the best speed, at least that time, anyway."
Unified rocketed to the lead to show the way along the backstretch, as Mind Your Biscuits settled in fifth after an alert start. Unified set fractions of :22.37 and :44.71 for the first half-mile of the 6 1/2-furlong event, stalked by Early Entry. The leader sprinted to a clear lead on the far turn and appeared on his way to a commanding victory, but Mind Your Biscuits launched an eye-catching closing drive under Joel Rosario, lengthened stride in the stretch, and came up just short.
"Jimmy left it up to me," winning jockey Jose Ortiz said. "He said, 'We have the horse with speed outside of us (in Delta Bluesman), but if he breaks very sharp and you think you can be there, go ahead.' He broke really sharp and I took the lead as easy as I could, and when I asked him to run he responded."
Unified hit the wire in 1:15.30 to make his 2017 debut a winning one. Mind Your Biscuits, who captured the Malibu Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park in his most recent start Dec. 26, finished 4 1/4 lengths clear of Squadron A.
"Unified is a really nice horse. Let's take nothing away from him. He ran a great race," said Mind Your Biscuit's trainer and part owner Chad Summers. "He got away on an early lead. I thought our horse ran great. Like I've said--our end goal is Dubai (in the $2 million Golden Shaheen, G1) a month from today."
Jerkens didn't reveal a specific goal for Unified's next start but did express his belief that the Kentucky-bred colt seems capable of stretching out in the future.
"I wouldn't rule out a mile—a one-turn mile at Belmont," Jerkens said. "It will be tough to get him to rate after this, sending him out of there like a Quarter Horse, but I think he is pretty sensible and you can shut him down in the mornings if you want. You definitely need to look at the (grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap) for sure, with his easy speed. Belmont can be so speed-favoring, especially in the spring time, and you can get a little farther than you would otherwise."