Unrivaled eyes a different Derby after dull Blue Grass

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Unrivaled will get to run in a derby on the first Saturday in May after all, just not the one Team Valor International and trainer Marya Montoya dreamed about, after their horse wound up seventh of eight in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 4.

“We’ve got a nice easy spot picked out for him, let him regroup and see what we have,” Montoya said Monday of the $75,000 Parx Derby at 1 mile and 70 yards May 2.

The first horse Montoya saddled in a Grade 1, Unrivaled never made much progress in the Blue Grass – dropping back to last early and never unleashing the kick that carried him to lopsided wins in his previous two starts. Montoya blamed the dull effort on her horse’s behavior before the race.

Unrivaled go unsettled in the pre-race holding barn and wouldn’t stand in the stall without trying to rear up. He spent about 40 minutes walking around the barn instead, and never settled. The paddock wasn’t much better as Unrivaled never stopped bouncing and fought with Montoya over the saddling process.

“It was too much for him,” said the trainer. “Watching him walk to the gate, just before he went in, I saw him drop his head down. He looked like a deflated balloon.”

Ran like it too. Montoya wasn’t all that disappointed with the 13-length defeat, considering the circumstances, but like any trainer simply wanted her horse to give his best effort. Claimed for $30,000 at Keeneland last fall, the son of Super Saver has overcome gate issues, won twice by a combined 20 lengths, been purchased by major owner Team Valor and made his stakes debut in Grade 1 company all in about six months. Montoya appreciates the chance and looks forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings. She moved Unrivaled to her base at Parx, from which she won 17 races last year.

“He seems fine, we’ll just aim for that race here and see how he does,” she said. “I’m really glad they gave me the opportunity to keep the horse.”

For more on Unrivaled and his trainer, see TIHR article from before the Blue Grass.