With the 2017 Triple Crown season in the rearview mirror, the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” season is gearing up. While “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races for this year’s event have been taking place since January, the U.S. races are now coming fast and furious the deeper we progress into summer.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Forever Unbridled, winner of the Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes on Aug. 26 and a guaranteed spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff starting gate via the Challenge Series.
Racehorses don’t come much more consistent than Forever Unbridled. She has seven wins in 16 career starts and has only finished outside of the top three in two races. In fact, since a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland in October 2015 — a race in which she was beaten by only 1 ¾ lengths — Forever Unbridled has six wins, one second and two thirds in nine subsequent starts.
Last year, Forever Unbridled raced six times and won a pair of Grade 1s among three graded stakes wins before closing her season with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park, where she was 1 ¼ lengths behind winner Beholder.
Now 5 years old, Forever Unbridled made her 2017 debut in June at Churchill Downs and won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis easily as the 11-10 favorite under jockey Joel Rosario, who barely moved a muscle as she rallied into contention on the turn and then seized command in the stretch. The bay mare earned a 100 Equibase Speed Figure for her first start in 7 ½ months, but given she was never even asked to cut loose, the figure probably did not accurately represent her performance.
Forever Unbridled tackled a much more difficult test in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign as she faced champion Songbird, who entered the race with 13 wins and one second in 14 career starts. Songbird controlled the pace unchallenged in the Personal Ensign while Forever Unbridled raced at the back of the four-horse field.
Forever Unbridled made a sweeping bid into contention off the final turn and outfinished Songbird in the final furlong to prevail by a neck in a thrilling finish.
“Just phenomenal,” winning trainer Dallas Stewart said the day after the race. “She just really put on a performance [in the Personal Ensign] that was out of this world. She beat a champion and you have to have an unbelievable performance to do what she did. She looks good today, too. She looks bright and she’s rearing up and bucking this morning; all of the above.
“She’s a big, beautiful, strong filly,” Stewart added. “She had some raw talent coming into training early and then as a 3-year-old hooked some great fillies like [I’m a] Chatterbox and Lovely Maria. We never ducked anybody. That’s [owner-breeder] Chuck Fipke’s style. He doesn’t duck anyone.”
The 112 Equibase Speed Figure was a nice step forward and Forever Unbridled really had to battle to get past Songbird, who fought gamely to the finish line. It should set up both elite racemares to take a step forward in their next start.
For Forever Unbridled, her next race most likely will come in the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes — a 1 1/8-mile race she won last year — on Sept. 30 at Belmont Park as her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup.
Forever Unbridled has won four of seven starts at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. In her last nine starts, other than the Fleur de Lis, she’s earned Equibase Speed Figures between 109 and 114 and has been pretty consistently between 111 and 114. The average winning speed figure for the Distaff over the last 10 years is 114.6, so Forever Unbridled is right in range.
She also has been a very good shipper throughout her career, winning at seven different racetracks in New York, Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana as well as finishing third in her first visit to Southern California last fall for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup.
Forever Unbridled is so consistent; it’s tough to predict anything but a big effort in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 3 at Del Mar. If there is a speed duel early, she could be especially dangerous rallying from off the pace and doing her best running late.
Forever Unbridled is an impeccably bred daughter of Unbridled’s Song, the sire of champion Arrogate, the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and this year’s Dubai World Cup and Pegasus World Cup Invitational winner.
The winner of the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Unbridled’s Song was a leading commercial sire responsible for many elite runners over the years, such as champions Will Take Charge and Midshipman, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle, 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine, and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Las Vegas Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map among many Grade/Group 1 winners. Most of his best runners combine dazzling speed and the ability to carry it around two turns. Unbridled’s Song died in 2013.
Forever Unbridled is one of two Grade 1 winners produced by 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, by Lemon Drop Kid. Her full-sister (same dam, same sire), Unbridled Forever, won the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes in 2015.
Of course, we already know Forever Unbridled can put forth an elite effort at the 1 1/8-mile Distaff distance, but the abundance of class and stamina in her pedigree helps to explain why Forever Unbridled is so consistently excellent.