Forever Unbridled gets her due in Breeders’ Cup Distaff

- -

Chuck Fipke walked out of the Del Mar test barn Friday night and asked for a mint. “Anybody have a mint? Who has a mint? Can someone give me a mint?” People instantly reached for their pockets – a veterinarian, a writer, some family members, even Bo Derek.

And, of course, it wasn’t for him. Eventually, the mint was produced though Fipke had to pause when someone suggested he at least wait for Forever Unbridled to conclude post-race testing before the owner introduced a foreign substance.

“No, no, I asked. I’m going to wait. Don’t worry.”

Forever Unbridled got her mint, and Fipke got another moment with his star mare who won Friday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Trained by Dallas Stewart, the 5-year-old clinched a 3-for-3 season and the Eclipse Award as champion older female of 2017 with a half-length score over Abel Tasman in the Distaff, which highlighted the opening day of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

She also got some justice, winning a race she finished third in last year. A year ago at Santa Anita, she couldn’t reel in champions Beholder and Songbird and settled for a game – if futile – effort.

There was no settling in 2017. Breaking from post six in the eight-horse field, Forever Unbridled wasted no time letting everyone else do the early running. She was seventh around the first turn as Champagne Room established herself up front, just ahead of Paradise Woods. Up the backside, John Velazquez advanced a position with the winner as ahead of him Elate (outside), Stellar Wind (inside) and Mopotism chased the leaders.

Just past the half-mile pole, Velazquez nudged the gas pedal and Forever Unbridled filled the bridle while still sixth. The jockey, chosen by Fipke over Joel Rosario in a decision early in the week, made her wait another sixteenth. Ahead of Forever Unbridled, Jose Ortiz asked Elate to go after the leaders and didn’t get an immediate response. The 2-1 favorite was trying, just not making progress. Velazquez noticed, and sent Forever Unbridled toward the front on the turn. She was there in an instant – a white-shadow-rolled menace coming four wide as the field reached the quarter pole.

“Sometimes you can draw it the way you want it to, and it doesn’t show up,” Velazquez said of having pre-race plans. “It just happens she was there for me. Let’s put it that way. She did everything I asked her to do, and she responded for everything I wanted to do. It’s easy when you have a job like that and the horse responds for you.”

Forever Unbridled came off the turn full of run, went around Elate as Champagne Room backed up on the rail. The winner engaged Paradise Woods at the top of the stretch, took the lead with three-sixteenths to go – via several under-elbow glances by Velazquez – and held off the steady late rally of Abel Tasman to the wire. Paradise Woods hung on for third.

Bred by Fipke, Forever Unbridled is a daughter of Unbridled’s Song and Lemons Forever, who won the 2006 Kentucky Oaks for Stewart and Horton Stable. The next year, Fipke bought Lemons Forever as a broodmare prospect for $2.5 million at Keeneland November. The owner met Stewart that night, and vowed to send him some horses someday. The first few weren’t much, but together Fipke and Stewart have won major races with Seeking The Title and Unbridled Forever (also a daughter of Lemons Forever), and finished second in the Kentucky Derby with Golden Soul.

With eight wins, three seconds, four thirds and $3,186,880 earned in 17 starts, Forever Unbridled has outdone them all. After the Distaff defeat last year, she underwent surgery to remove an ankle chip. She returned in June and won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. On Travers Day at Saratoga, she caught Songbird to win the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. The Breeders’ Cup was always the target, and Stewart passed on another race in between.

“That was the plan,” he said on the way back to his barn Friday evening. “Once we got her back and got it planned out, it was pretty simple. She could keep herself fit, or we thought we could keep her fit and we could accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. The point was to get her here fresh and fit, and it worked.”

This summer Stewart compared Forever Unbridled to champion and Hall of Famer Winning Colors, the 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Stewart worked with while part of the D. Wayne Lukas stable.

“She’s just that good, she’s that good,” Stewart said. “She’s got that determination. She trains at it every day. She doesn’t back up in her training, she gives it everything she’s got all the time.”

Must be the mints.

DISTAFF NOTES: Forever Unbridled has won seven of her last 10 starts – all graded stakes – dating to November 2015. In the three losses, she finished behind Cavorting, Curalina, Beholder and Songbird . . . Stewart won the Distaff with Unbridled Elaine, also a daughter of Unbridled’s Song, in 2001 . . . Velazquez won the 2015 Comely and 2016 Apple Blossom on Forever Unbridled . . . Winning Colors lost an epic Breeders’ Cup Distaff battle to Personal Ensign at Churchill Downs in 1988.

• Friday’s Breeders’ Cup four pack opened with the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, which went to eFive Racing’s Rushing Fall. Trained by Chad Brown, the daughter of More Than Ready improved to 3-for-3 with a three-quarter-length score over Best Performance with September third. It was Brown’s fourth win in the race, after Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014) and New Money Honey last year.

• In the $1 milion Dirt Mile, Sharp Azteca and Battle Of Midway traded punches like hockey goons with the latter getting the nod by a half-length for WinStar Farm and Don Alberto and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Third in the Kentucky Derby in May, the son of Smart Strike won for the fifth time in 10 starts. Flavien Pratt rode the winner, whose dam Rigoletta won the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2010.

• In the $1 million Juvenile Turf, Irish raider Mendelssohn lived up to all sorts of things – family and sale price for starters – for Derrick Smith, Susan and John Magnier and Michael Tabor and trainer Aidan O’Brien. Breaking from the rail in a field of 14, the winner held off Untamed Domain by a length to win for the second time in five starts. Ryan Moore rode the son of Scat Daddy, a half-brother to three-time Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder (and the top stallion Into Mischief) purchased at Keeneland September for $3 million.

FRIDAY NOTES: Attendance was 32,978 and all-sources handle was up 5.3 percent over 2016. On-track handle was up 29 percent over last year at Santa Anita. … Ulysses, pre-race favorite for Saturday’s Turf, will not run after coming up with an injury. … Saturday’s card gets started at 10:10 a.m. PT with the first Breeders’ Cup race (the Juvenile Fillies) set for noon. … You can listen to live coverage from Horse Racing Radio Network on Sirius 219/XM 206.