1990: Unbridled

Sunday, May 06, 1990

POWERFUL MOVE PUSHES WINNER PAST FAVORITE

By Maryjean Wall and Christy McIntyre, Herald-Leader Staff Writers

On her face was the hopeful look that told of 53 years of races won and lost and how much it meant to win this one. Yet Frances A. Genter didn’t dare look up the track for fear she would see her hopes dashed.
So she turned to her trainer, Carl Nafzger, to hear what the world saw unfolding yesterday at Churchill Downs. As Unbridled neared the wire a winner, Genter’s face took on a look 92 years young.  Then Nafzger turned and kissed the lady. “You won the Kentucky Derby. Oh, Mrs. Genter, I love you.”
Unbridled, overlooked at 10-1, put away the two favorites, Summer Squall and Mister Frisky, when turning for home to score a 3 1/2-length upset in the 116th Kentucky Derby.
Summer Squall was an easy second by six lengths over Pleasant Tap. But Mister Frisky, who went off a 9-5 favorite over Summer Squall at 2-1, suffered his first loss in 17 races and wound up a tired eighth.
Unbridled ran the mile and a quarter in 2:02 over a track upgraded from muddy to good just before the Derby. It was the 10th fastest time in Derby history.
Unbridled, sent off as fifth betting choice, paid $23.60, $7.80 and $5.80. Summer Squall returned $3.80 and $3.80, and Pleasant Tap paid $12.
Mister Frisky and Summer Squall dashed the hopes of many in the crowd of 128,257 who had made them heavy favorites. But Unbridled’s powerful move that won the race made a wish come true for Genter and Nafzger.
“I’d been saying all week, if I ever won a Kentucky Derby, I wish it would be this Kentucky Derby because I’d like to win it for Mrs. Genter,” said Nafzger. “Fifty-three years in racing, 92 years old, and her first Derby horse.”
She had been waiting so long for a horse like this, and Unbridled was the perfect match for her patience. Kentucky Derby prospects had come and gone in her stable, which has raced about 40 stakes winners. Unbridled even had a predecessor with the same name, but that horse, who ran in the 1950s for the Genter stable, was a sprinter.
Then along came this beautiful bay son of Fappiano, out of a mare called Gana Facil, by Le Fabuleux, that Genter bought at the Tartan Farms dispersal. Given the sprinter’s name, Unbridled went the other way and became just the colt Genter needed to go the Derby’s mile and a quarter.
Nafzger babied the colt through a series of races that didn’t always look dazzling. But the races got Unbridled to the Derby, dead-set for the task he faced in the field of 15 when the gates flew open at 5:34 p.m.
Unbridled set forth from post position eight and promptly stood his ground when squeezed just after the start by Pleasant Tap and Fighting Fantasy. But jockey Craig Perret said he never had to steady the colt. “He’s a big strong horse and he can take a little of that.”
So Perret let Unbridled find his own position, back toward the rear where the colt likes to race. All eyes were on Mister Frisky, who was fourth, slightly more than a length behind Fighting Fantasy when they went by the stands the first time. Pat Day had Summer Squall in sixth, five lengths behind Mister Frisky, after a quarter in :22 3/5.
Real Cash took over the lead on the first turn, and Mister Frisky moved alongside him, with Thirty Six Red running third. Fighting Fantasy went wide and dropped back, then nearly bolted on the far turn.
Summer Squall was sixth, nine lengths off the lead, while Perret and Unbridled were nearly 14 lengths back and far off the rail in 12th.
Real Cash led Mister Frisky by a head after a half in :46, and those two ran as a team through three-quarters in 1:11. By then, Summer Squall and Unbridled had started to gain, and luck was with Perret as the field approached the far turn.
“I was trying to pick a spot to go when I went into the last half-mile,” Perret said. “When I got him behind Angel (Cordero, on Land Rush), Angel had to steady for a second, and as soon as I laid inside of him, it opened.
He moved Unbridled inside Land Rush and Burnt Hills, then angled outside Pleasant Tap to take aim at Summer Squall, who had moved up to challenge Mister Frisky as Real Cash dropped back.
“Like I said, I was in the right spot at the right time. Once I made that hole, I just eased him clear and I had dead aim at Summer Squall.”
Summer Squall made a powerful move on the outside and easily passed Mister Frisky. Perret said he didn’t anticipate hooking up with Summer Squall until inside the eighth pole, but he got there as early as the quarter pole — without even cocking his whip.
Day had gone to the whip on Summer Squall turning for home. It is uncharacteristic of Day to hit a horse so soon.
“We came up on him pretty easy,” said Perret. “I saw Pat hit his horse left-handed, and I said, ‘You’re in trouble.’ ”
“Inside the eighth pole, I turned my stick on him and hit him, and he exploded.”
Day also knew he was in trouble at the head of the stretch.
“We were on the lead at that point, and he threw his ears up and just lost total concentration,” Day said. “When Unbridled came by me he got back into it, but it wasn’t the burst that I anticipated that he was capable of. He came on down there with a halfhearted run.”
Day accomplished a dubious achievement as Summer Squall trailed Unbridled through the stretch — making Day the first jockey to finish second three years in a row. He was second on Forty Niner in 1988, then again on Easy Goer last year.
Mister Frisky, on the rail, faded badly through the stretch and finished more than 19 lengths back. It was the 11th straight year that a favorite had failed to win the Derby.
Mister Frisky had bobbled in the backside but recovered and pulled jockey Gary Stevens to the lead in the upper far turn.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’ that the race was ours,” Stevens said. But within a matter of strides, Stevens said Mister Frisky began bobbling again.
“At that point, I just wondered about his physical well-being and I just took care of him the last eighth of a mile,” said Stevens. “We pulled up after the race, and he was in no distress.
“People have already asked me about the pace and if he can handle a mile and a quarter. He was comfortable early in the race. He pulled me to the lead in the first turn. We had a great position outside of Real Cash, which is exactly where I wanted to be. He was doing it very easily, but midway around the last turn he began to get a little bit uncomfortable.”
The $581,000 that Unbridled earned yesterday outdid his previous earnings of $519,235 and brought his total to $1,100,235. And the Derby triumph finally gave him the credibility that has kept him from being a popular hero.
“They built a fence all week around Mister Frisky and Summer Squall,” said Perret. “The thing is, we only see what had happened two weeks ago. With Unbridled, we worked with him daily and we saw the progress he was making. We were coming to it the right way. That played a big role here. I didn’t feel it was a two-horse race going in.”
No one really got to see the real Unbridled in the Blue Grass Stakes, won by Summer Squall, for Unbridled had been compromised by a muddy track. Before that, he had just started making a name for himself when he won the Florida Derby by four lengths, but the slow time of 1:52 for 1 1/8 miles left doubts about his ability. Earlier, he had failed to establish himself when he narrowly lost the Fountain of Youth by half a length.
But Unbridled was starting to show all the right characteristics in those early preps. He overcame traffic, demonstrated courage and looked like a horse who would come running at the end of a mile-and-a-quarter race.
All he needed was his chance, which finally came his way when the sun broke through the clouds and the wish came true.

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