Of the five Breeders’ Cup races contested over Santa Anita’s dirt course on Saturday, three went to descendants of 1990 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled (by Fappiano). Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song) won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile) won the BC Juvenile, and Champagne Room (Broken Vow) won the Juvenile Fillies. Both Unbridled’s Song and Broken Vow are sons of Unbridled, and Pioneerof the Nile is by Unbridled’s classic-winning son Empire Maker.
Overall, Saturday was a very good day at the Cup for the Mr. Prospector line, with Finest City (City Zip) winning the BC Filly Sprint and Drefong (Gio Ponti – Northern Dancer line) getting a dirt track victory in the BC Sprint. In addition, BC Mile winner Tourist (Tiznow) is out of a broodmare by Unbridled’s Song.
The Breeders’ Cup results adequately reflect the three most prolific lines coming from Unbridled. From his sire’s first crop, Unbridled’s Song won the BC Juvenile, then the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial the next season to become a hot favorite for the 1996 Kentucky Derby.
That did not work out for Unbridled’s Song, who had trouble with his feet that compromised his classic hopes; nor were Broken Vow or Empire Maker winners of the Kentucky classic. All three, however, showed high class and earned a serious place at stud.
Of the three important sons, Unbridled’s Song showed the highest turn of speed and was the most popular at the sales. Both Unbridled’s Song and Empire Maker were Grade 1 winners at 2, and all three are big horses: tall, deep-bodied, robust horses with very good bone.
They came by their size quite naturally.
A truly big horse, Unbridled had the typical frame and scope of the stock by his broodmare sire Le Fabuleux, a winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) and prominent sire at Claiborne Farm. Unbridled did not carry as much flesh as his sire Fappiano, who was a big but an altogether heftier animal, and Unbridled was more effective over classic distances.
In fact, Unbridled has become the primary line of classic-aptitude descent for the Mr. Prospector branch of Raise a Native. From Unbridled’s first crop, the stallion with the striking blaze sired Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, and eventually, Unbridled added Preakness winner Red Bullet and Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker to create his own sort of Triple Crown as a sire of classic stock.
Initially retired to stand at Gainesway Farm, Unbridled was a tall, rather lanky and narrow horse with exceptional leverage through his hindleg. The big bay had great straps of muscle through the gluteals and hamstrings, but these didn’t make him look like a sprinter. He looked like a classic horse, but he was one of those gifted athletes whose proportions are so perfect that he could do more than appearances suggested.
Trainer Carl Nafzger told me that Unbridled “had a lot more speed than most people realized. He could have been champion sprinter he was so talented.” Nafzger proved his point by sending Unbridled against champion sprinter Housebuster in the 1991 Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream.
Against specialist sprinters, champion Unbridled went off the second choice at slightly more than 3-1, and for a half-mile those odds seemed optimistic. The bay broke alertly but lagged behind the early pace as Housebuster went a half in :44.53, and Unbridled was seventh, nine lengths behind, at that point. At the stretch call, the previous year’s Kentucky Derby winner had moved up to third but still three and a half lengths behind the flying Housebuster and Shuttleman.
Then the big horse dropped his head, passed the leaders, and won by three lengths. It was an absolutely scintillating performance.
After his retirement, Unbridled could have been written off as another big, lanky horse who would sire stayers. But those who understood the makeup of the horse, the uncommon communion of speed and stamina, made such good use of him that he became the hottest young sire in the country with his first crop of racers.
When overseas interests came calling, a domestic syndicate stepped in and kept Unbridled in Kentucky, moving him to Claiborne, where Unbridled spent the rest of his stud career.
Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup results remind us that his influence is strongly with us still.