Unified stretches out successfully, remains unbeaten in Peter Pan
Favored at 1-2 following a pair of scintillating sprint victories at Gulfstream Park and Aqueduct, Unified scored by three-quarters of a length and could proceed to the Belmont Stakes (G1) if connections opt to try the extended distance.
The 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” is the likely destination for the next three Peter Pan finishers – Governor Malibu, Wild About Deb and Adventist – but Unified has options on the June 11 program, with the 7-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) for 3-year-olds and $1.25 million Met Mile (G1) against elders as alternatives.
Jerkens wasn’t ready to commit to the Belmont Stakes four weeks later but didn’t count out the possibility of trying the final leg of the Triple Crown.
A wire-to-wire winner in his first two outings, Unified broke sharply from post 7 but conceded the early advantage to 70-1 outsider Singleton, tracking the pacesetter in second through opening splits of :23.32 and :46.38. The bay son of Candy Ride advanced to even terms rounding the far turn, sticking a head in front through three-quarters in 1:10.25, and Unified accelerated clear into the stretch drive.
After passing the mile mark in 1:34.46 with a three-length edge, Unified saw his lead dwindle inside the final furlong as Governor Malibu rallied determinedly. But the runner-up was never a serious threat to the winner, who galloped out well past the wire and picked up $120,000 to increase his earnings to $324,000.
“I thought I had it (won) but the last couple jumps, he felt the other horse and he got pretty good, very good,” Ortiz said. “By the half-mile pole, I put (Singleton) away and he then he settled back down and when I asked him to go, he was there.”
“I thought it was great,” Jerkens said. “I thought he rated as good as you could expect for only having two races. I was happy to see that. Jose did a good job of keeping his hands down and keeping him out off the fence.”
Unified opened his racing career at 6-furlongs, recording a three-length tally over maiden special weight foes on February 21, and came back to capture the 7-furlong Bay Shore (G3) by the same margin over a muddy track on the April 9 Wood Memorial undercard.
“We wanted to give him a little test,” the trainer added. “We didn't have to completely turn him around (because) it was one turn. He's got quality. We trained him hard for this race, and he took it like a man. He didn't miss an oat. He actually looks like he's carrying more flesh than he did when he ran the last time. Only the good ones do that.”
Bred in Kentucky by Blue Devil Racing Stable, Unified is out of the stakes-placed Dixie Union mare Union City, a full-sister to Grade 2 victress Dixie City. Unified was purchased for $325,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August Sale.
“After the Bay Shore, we weren't really sure where we were going,” said Donald Little, managing partner of Centennial Farms. “Dr. (Steve) Carr and Jimmy (Jerkens) talked about it and felt that if we were going to try (a route of ground), now was the time to do it. It's another step accomplished. Jose said he didn't want the horse in front of him to get away so he said he may have used him a little bit too soon but the way he got away from them at the stretch, you could see he was getting a little tired at the end, so Jimmy and Steve will talk about (what’s next).”
Governor Malibu made his first five starts versus New York-bred rivals, capturing the Gander in early February. He finished first by a nose when making his first attempt against open rivals, the April 9 Federico Tesio at Pimlico, but the Christophe Clement trainee was disqualified for interference and placed second. Governor Malibu wound up 2 ½ lengths clear of third-placer Wild About Deb in the Peter Pan and it was about another length back to Adventist in fourth.
Unified photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography