Unbridled Takes a Slow Route to Pimlico : Horse racing: Derby winner arrives, but won’t run on the Preakness track until Friday.
A horse van pulled up to Pimlico’s Barn E--the Preakness barn--in a light rain just after noon Wednesday, sending reporters, photographers and track officials hurrying in its direction.
The back door opened, and a chestnut mare was led off. “That’s Gaily Gaily,” someone said. “She’s running in the Dixie Handicap on Thursday.”
The wait was for a large bay colt with a white blaze running down his face. Unbridled is his name, the Kentucky Derby is his fame. Minutes after Gaily Gaily’s van left, another truck pulled up. Unbridled was running a little late, which didn’t happen when he beat Summer Squall by 3 1/2 lengths in the Derby on May 5.
Unbridled may have been one of the last horses to arrive at Pimlico for Saturday’s Preakness, but he’s the 2-1 favorite to be first and add the second jewel in the Triple Crown to his collection.
“My part’s over now,” trainer Carl Nafzger said as Unbridled got settled in. “Now it’s up to (jockey) Craig Perret and the horse.”
Unbridled was led into Stall 40, at the northeast end of Barn E, which is traditionally reserved for the Derby winner. Sunday Silence stayed in Stall 40 last year, as did 10 Preakness winners before him, going back to Carry Back in 1961.
In the stall next to Unbridled is Mustard, a quarter horse who is about 15 years old. Nafzger has used Mustard as a pony for a long time. On the other side of Unbridled is a stall that has been converted into a feed room.
Unbridled’s location at Pimlico might go with tradition, but there’s nothing conventional about the way Nafzger is bringing this horse up to the Preakness. While trainers of other Derby horses--Summer Squall, Pleasant Tap, Land Rush and Mister Frisky--shipped their horses here early so they could get some workouts over the Pimlico racing surface, Nafzger kept Unbridled in Louisville, Ky. The horse’s final warmup for the Preakness was a five-furlong workout in 1:00 2/5 at Churchill Downs Tuesday. The only time Unbridled will see the Pimlico track before race day is when he gallops on it Friday.
“Maybe by Saturday evening, I’ll be saying that I gave myself bad advice,” Nafzger said. “But I believe in the same thing that Tom Landry used to say about all those Dallas Cowboys teams he took to the Super Bowl--we’re going with what got us here.”
A native Texan, Nafzger, 48, has had a varied career that started with professional bull-riding for 11 years before he became a trainer, of quarter horses and then thoroughbreds in 1971.
Not all of his training methods are typical. The morning after the Derby, Nafzger had Unbridled jogging on the track. Many trainers would wait a day before they sent a horse back to the track after such a demanding race as that.
Now, on Wednesday, Nafzger was explaining why Unbridled worked at Churchill Downs and wouldn’t work at Pimlico.
“There’s a lot of stress on a horse after a race like the Derby,” he said. “There would have been the added stress of the trip, and the stress of being introduced to a new barn, if we brought him here right away.
“I train at Churchill Downs the rest of the year, so for the Derby I had my regular barn there. Unbridled knows all the horses, he knows all of the people around that barn. I think we got the stress out of him by staying back. Now he’s had a textbook work, his adrenaline is up and he’s happy to be here. He’ll be even happier when they get his haynet up.”
Four days before the Derby, Unbridled worked five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:01 4/5, which was the third workout for the Florida Derby winner since he ran third, behind Summer Squall and Land Rush, in the Blue Grass Stakes.
When Perret got off Unbridled after that workout, Nafzger said: “You want me to say it, or do you want to say it?”
Perret couldn’t wait to say it. “We’re right on target,” the jockey said.
Unbridled’s workout at Churchill Downs Tuesday was even better, which doesn’t bode well for the opposition here, because the track was looser than it was was for the Derby. On Wednesday, with Perret not around, Nafzger said it: “If the seams open the way they did in the Derby, and if he runs the last quarter in another :24 2/5, then it’s going to take a nice horse to beat us.”
It is not unheard of for a horse to win the Preakness without a workout at Pimlico, although it’s rare. Trainer Wayne Lukas, who will start Land Rush and Kentucky Jazz in the race Saturday, has pulled it off twice, with Codex in 1980 and with Tank’s Prospect in 1985. In 1983, Deputed Testamony won the Preakness for trainer Bill Boniface without working at Pimlico.
“It’s not necessary that a horse have a workout over the track,” Boniface said. “Especially if he’s been running in a lot of races.”
Nafzger is not concerned about the Pimlico track, which has produced fast race and workout times for a week and is expected to be dry and fast Saturday.
“This is a fast track and a safe track,” Nafzger said. “There are some horses who might not be able to handle the (sharp) turns here, but it’s an easy track to run over. Churchill Downs has a looser and cuppier track, which fatigues a horse more.”
With a Pimlico official, Nafzger walked over to Stall 40, where Unbridled was blinking quizzically at photographers and getting reacquainted with Mustard next door. Nafzger pointed to a spot high up the wall on the right-hand side. That’s where Unbridled’s haynet was to go. Eating between meals is one of the perquisites for a Kentucky Derby winner.