Fla. Derby sings his tune Unbridled's Song rolls, is early Ky. Derby pick

March 17, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. - Unbridled's Song snatched back the title of Kentucky Derby favorite yesterday with an emphatic 5 3/4 -length victory in the $500,000 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

The gray son of the champion Unbridled stalked the pacesetter Appealing Skier for three quarters of a mile and then, on the final turn, under a brilliant Florida sun, pulled away and charged alone to the finish line.

On this day, he was invincible. It wasn't always so.

After winning the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October in only the third race of his career, Unbridled's Song finished second in his first two starts of 1996. The so-called best thoroughbred of his generation suddenly was tarnished.

Doubts abounded. Doubts crumbled yesterday.

"He ran awesome," said Jim Ryerson, Unbridled's Song's mild-mannered trainer. "We thought we had a good horse, but he has to go out and show it. He showed it convincingly today.

"We're going to the Triple Crown. We're just warming up."

Editor's Note, the temperamental colt from the D. Wayne Lukas stable, rallied from last to finish second. The Sonny Hines-trained Skip Away finished third.

Asked after the race where he might run his Skip Trial colt next, Hines said, referring to the Florida Derby champion: "I don't want to go where that guy's going."

The big disappointment was Cobra King, owned by Betty Biszantz but bred by her husband, Gary, who made his fortune manufacturing Cobra golf clubs. Their Farma Way colt was the slight favorite in the field of nine. He never threatened and finished eighth.

After Cobra King won three stakes in California as a 2-year-old, his owners decided the road to the Kentucky Derby forked through Florida. Four of the last six and nine of the last 21 Kentucky Derby winners raced in the Florida Derby.

But Cobra King's trainer, 29-year-old Mike Puype, was criticized this past week for his handling of the dark brown colt. Cobra King had not raced in eight weeks since winning the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes here Jan. 20.

"He trained far too well to run this poorly," Puype said. "He was in unfamiliar territory with dirt hitting him in close quarters. He may have lost interest."

Cobra King's jockey, Chris McCarron, said: "I'm really in shock. I don't know what to say. He was flat in the race. He never tried to run."

Lukas was pleased with the performance of Editor's Note, who, he said, "made a monster move at the half mile pole. . . . I can't see how he can do anything but improve off this."

Louis Quatorze, the highly regarded colt trained by Nick Zito, raced within striking distance of the leaders but then faded.

His jockey, Jerry Bailey, said: "He had every chance to win. He was just no match for the winner, or even for the second- and third-place horses."

Unbridled's Song, Bailey said, "ran very awesome."

Ryerson, the winner's trainer, worked with the headstrong colt in recent weeks, trying to calm him in the paddock and on the racetrack. He's nervous and hard to handle.

"But he seemed to relax today," Ryerson said. "He showed us he's improved, and if he improves some more it's going to take a lot of horse to beat him."

The jockey of Unbridled's Song, Mike Smith, matched a long-standing record by riding his third straight Florida Derby winner. He won last year on Thunder Gulch, and the year before on Holy Bull. He equaled the mark of Bill Hartack, who won on Gen. Duke in 1957, Tim Tam in 1958 and Easy Spur in 1959.

The owner of Unbridled's Song, Ernie Paragallo, said his colt would run next on April 13 in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. The brash Paragallo has guaranteed that his horse will win the Triple Crown.

"In this race we didn't even exert him," Paragallo said. "He came out of the gate, and we let him go. We let him tell us the way he wanted to run today."

The colt's sire, Unbridled, may be best remembered not so much for his masterful win in the 1990 Kentucky Derby, but for his trainer Carl Nafzger yelling into the ear of the horse's octogenarian owner, Frances Genter: "He's going to win, he's going to win. . . . Oh, Mrs. Genter, I love you!"

This year's Kentucky Derby, with Unbridled's Song now the featured attraction, is seven weeks from yesterday.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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