Their great showdown should have taken place in the 1990 Belmont Stakes, but 51 weeks after Unbridled last faced Summer Squall, it is better this way. The focus this time will be on racing, not a raging controversy that unfairly tainted their greatest triumphs.
Both horses are expected to race with Lasix in Saturday's Pimlico Special, just as they did when Unbridled won last year's Kentucky Derby and Summer Squall last year's Preakness. The sound and the fury over their use of the drug has faded. Frankly, it was misplaced to begin with.
Yet Neil Howard, the trainer of Summer Squall, concedes, "It will always be the trademark of this horse. They'll always nail him with that." Each year thousands of horses run on Lasix, a diuretic used to control bleeding. Summer Squall, in particular, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
None of it will detract Saturday from a race with a higher purse ($750,000) than next week's Preakness, and a stronger field as well. Unbridled will be making only his third start as a 4-year-old, Summer Squall his second. They surely will meet again, but not with this type of anticipation.
Five other horses will run in the Special, "one of the greatest races ever put together" in the estimation of Unbridled's trainer, Carl Nafzger. Jolie's Halo and Farma Way appear especially capable of an upset, but no matter. The story of this race is Unbridled vs. Summer Squall. The rivalry resumed.
Unbridled recorded the second fastest stretch run in Derby history, Summer Squall the second fastest Preakness ever. In each race they finished 1-2, and Summer Squall won their only prior meeting, in the Blue Grass Stakes, where Unbridled finished third.
The Belmont should have settled everything, but instead iserved as the final chapter in the Lasix uproar. Summer Squall did not run largely because New York is the only state where the medication is illegal. Unbridled competed anyway, but finished a distant fourth.
The debate over Lasix is far from over, but it burned Howard tha"nobody said a word" Saturday when eight of the 16 Derby starters ran with the drug -- including the 5-2 favorite Hansel and the second- and third-place finishers, Best Pal and Mane Minister.
No, the hot topic at the Derby this year was the silly DosagIndex, which decreed that Strike the Gold could not win because of his pedigree. The scene was quite different last year, when a Lasix study commissioned by the Jockey Club was released just in time for the Triple Crown.
The study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvaniadeclared that Lasix can dramatically improve a horse's performance -- even when the animal isn't a bleeder. That conclusion fueled a new round of debate; of course, it also suited the goals of the New York-based Jockey Club perfectly.
As if that wasn't enough, Summer Squall bled through his nostrils the day before the Preakness, only adding to the furor. No less an authority than trainer Wayne Lukas questioned the wisdom of letting the colt run, claiming his handlers were "swinging for the fences."
Well, Summer Squall hit a home run. Cot Campbell, the head of his syndicate, immediately announced he would not run in the Belmont. Howard, meanwhile, was in the eye of the storm, trying to educate a national media contingent that, in his mind, could not grasp the issue.
"I don't think he's the only bleeder in racing today," he says, still smarting from the experience. "I couldn't understand why they rode me about it. I just thought they went a little overboard. It was totally uncalled for."
Howard says the outcry did not diminish his euphoria -- "When it comes to training horses and winning big races, believe me, nobody can spoil it." But in a very real sense, Summer Squall never received his just recognition. Given the intense scrutiny of the Triple Crown, perhaps he never will.
The real questions lie with a sport in which rules vary according to state -- can you imagine the American League using the DH in only certain cities? Yet, that's not even of concern at Pimlico this week. Howard says, "Unbridled is the one I fear most." His rival Nafzger says, "To win, you've got to beat Summer Squall."
"We're both anxious," Nafzger continues. "You don't talk about it, you don't lose sleep over it, you're just excited. It's like a prize fight, a playoff at the Masters. It's competition. If you don't like it, you're in the wrong business. If you can't stand getting beat, you should go home."
The rivalry resumes Saturday.
This time, with the proper focus.