OZONE PARK, N. Y. - Following an eye-catching and buzz-worthy maiden win at Gulfstream Park in February, Unified takes a big step Saturday when he makes his second career start in the Grade 3, $300,000 Bay Shore at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Centennial Farms' Unified, a son of Candy Ride, has been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the field of eight set to travel seven furlongs in the Bay Shore.
The Bay Shore Stakes, with its 4:52 p.m. EDT post, kicks off the first Big Apple/Bluegrass Pick 4, which also encompasses Aqueduct's Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial; Grade 1, $1 million Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland; and the Grade 1, $300,000 Madison at Keeneland.
Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Unified scored a front-running victory in a Gulfstream maiden-special-weight race February 21. The colt was out of the gate in a flash, steadily increased his advantage over his six rivals, and won the race by three lengths. His final time for the six furlongs was a snappy 1:08.95, just .83 seconds off the track record.
"He had been working good up to the race, so the [victory] wasn't a surprise," Jerkens said Thursday morning at his Belmont Park barn. "I was surprised he broke so sharp because usually none of my horses, no matter how much we school them at the gate, ever seem to break good first time out. But it looked like he opened his doors before the others, and then he was gone."
Unified's career debut was put on hold for several months due to inflammation in one of his ankles. The horse, in fact, was entered to debut on opening day of Belmont Park's 2015 spring/summer meet, but was scratched. No surgery was required; just rest on Centennial's farm in Middleburg, Virginia.
With just his single start, Unified is conceding experience to his Bay Shore rivals, but Jerkens is not overly concerned.
"I think he fits talent-wise," Jerken said. "He certainly doesn't have the seasoning the others have, but for a horse who hasn't raced much, we've worked him inside of horses, and made it tight on him, and he didn't try to get out of there. We've also worked him a couple of times behind horses and he took the dirt okay. I think he has some guts."
Javier Castellano rode Unified to his maiden win, but is in Keeneland on Saturday, so Jerkens has tabbed Jose Ortiz to ride. Unified drew post 5.
Burning Sands Stables' homebred Awesome Gent, a winner of three races from four starts, is the second choice in the morning-line at odds of 3-1.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Awesome Gent wintered in New York, and made the most of his opportunities at Aqueduct. A New York-bred son of Awesome Again, the gelding won a maiden race and an allowance race on the inner track, before capturing the Jimmy Winkfield on March 6 at the Big A.
Manny Franco rides Awesome Gent, who drew post 4.
Another son of Awesome Again, Awesome Speed returns to sprinting after finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 27. Prior to that loss, Awesome Speed won three consecutive races, including two ungraded stakes. The Alan Goldberg trainee is also entered in Saturday's Federico Tesio at Laurel Park.
Cocked and Loaded ships in from Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Larry Rivelli, who coincidentally is the co-breeder of another Bay Shore starter, Richie the Bull.
Cocked and Loaded, unraced since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, won the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs last September. A son of Colonel John, Cocked and Load is also a stakes winner in New York; he won last year's Tremont at Belmont Park.
Completing the field for the 56th running of the Bay Shore are Lost in the Fog winner, King Kranz; Laurel-based stakes winner, Never Gone South; Richie the Bull, who finished third in the Grade 2 Swale in his last start; and Sallisaw, a recent allowance winner at Aqueduct.
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