Gulfstream News & Notes
Byrne Charged for ‘Indy’s’ Return in Donn Handicap
Take Charge Indy is set for a return to action Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where the 2012 Florida Derby (G1) winner will make a bid to repeat his heroics in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1).
Should he prevail in Gulfstream’s premier event for older horses, the Patrick Byrne-trained 4-year-old would join Quality Road (2009-2010), Harlan’s Holiday (2002-2003) and Cryptoclearance (1987-1988) as Florida Derby winners that came back to win the Donn the following year. More importantly for his connections, Take Charge Indy would position himself as a major force in the handicap division for the remainder of the 2013 racing season.
“Obviously, he’s got to step up off his 3-year-old form. One never knows how much they’ve developed until they start racing. The Donn’s a good start,” Byrne said. “We know he likes the track, obviously. It will be nice to see him get going. Hopefully, he’ll have a good trip and no excuses, so we get a true evaluation where he’s going to fit down the road.”
Take Charge Indy stepped up his game last season when he posted a front-running victory in the $1 million Florida Derby by a length, upsetting heavily favored Union Rags, who finished third. However, a chip was discovered in his left front ankle after a 19th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, resulting in a layoff of almost six months.
The son of A.P. Indy returned to the races at Keeneland in late October to finish third in the Fayette (G2), in which he set the pace before tiring. He came back less than a month later to finish second behind Shackleford in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs in his 2012 finale.
“The race at Keeneland off a six-month layoff was fantastic. I mean, you can get them only so fit. We had to come back in three and a half weeks to run in the Clark,” Byrne said. “We were a little tight for space there regarding time. It wasn’t the most perfect situation, but we were second best that day and we beat a good horse in Bourbon Courage, who’s running Saturday.”
Take Charge Indy will race for the first time in the colors of WinStar Farm, LLC, which purchased 100 percent of the Kentucky-bred colt’s breeding rights and will campaign him in 2013 in partnership with Chuck and Maribeth Sandford.
“(The Clark) was a big effort for Take Charge Indy. I think the class he showed gave Elliott Walden and the WinStar people enough confidence to go ahead and keep him in training for another year,” Byrne said.
John Velazquez will ride Take Charge Indy for the first time, replacing the injured Calvin Borel.
“Take Charge Indy is tactical. Johnny’s riding style is that he tends to put one into a race. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be on the lead,” Byrne said. “John Terranova’s horse (Citrus Kid) has speed; the California horse (Ultimate Eagle) has speed; so there’ll be plenty of spice up front. Johnny will ride his race off the break. He’ll probably have him forwardly placed and we’ll just see how it unravels for us.”
In addition to Bourbon Courage, Citrus Kid and Ultimate Eagle, Take Charge Indy is expected to take on Flat Out, the 2012 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) champion, and Pool Play, the Grade 1 stakes-winning 8-year-old who finished second in the Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream last time out.
“We’re going to get our horse started and see where he fits in the handicap division. All we can do is worry about our guy,” Byrne said. “We’re eager to get him started. It will be nice to get him started under the WinStar banner and in the WinStar colors. We look forward to a nice year with him.”
Unbridled Command Ready for Clash With ‘Turf’ Stars
Unbridled Command circled the field and drew off to victory in the Hollywood Derby (G1) in his 2012 finale, capping a special sophomore season for a colt that had begun his campaign with a third-place finish in an entry-level allowance race restricted to horses bred in New York.
“He took baby steps and we picked our spots carefully and had a good year because of it,” said trainer Tom Bush, whose New York-bred trainee finished last season with a five-race winning streak at Hollywood Park.
Unbridled Command will be making another step up the class ladder in Saturday’s $300,000 Kitten’s Joy Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1), in which he is slated to face 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and three-time Grade 1 winner Point of Entry.
“This race is a whole other level. He’s got to run against older horses for the first time, and unfortunately he’s got to run against two of the best,” Bush said. “I’m pretty concerned about that.”
While the son of Master Command will be clashing with two of the best horses in training next Saturday, his triumph in the Hollywood Derby clearly makes him worthy of the challenge. After sitting off the pace, Unbridled Command swept to the lead on the final turn and went on to score by 1½ lengths.
“I really had been pointing to that race since August. I knew the horse would love a mile and a quarter and I knew it was against 3-year-olds only,” Bush said. “That was why we wanted to run in that race, because we knew it would fit the horse. He did get the mile and a quarter nicely, and we were thrilled to see that.”
It was a brilliant performance that few might have expected after his first two races against state-breds to begin his 3-year-old campaign. The pair of third-place finishes, though, would be followed by an undefeated string of races. The luxury of racing against state-breds in three of those races aided in his steady development into a Grade 1 winner.
“Those races were a softer way to get a horse started. He wasn’t matured and physically developed when we were getting his win streak going,” Bush said. “He wasn’t as good a horse as he is now. It was great to have those races contribute to his development.”
Unbridled Command’s emergence into a turf star wasn’t totally unexpected by his trainer.
“I always had a lot of hope for the colt. I always liked him. He was very immature early in his 2-year-old year,” Bush said. “He was second at Saratoga on the grass. Back then, he was a horse that didn’t learn how to relax. He hadn’t filled out. He wasn’t muscled like I knew he could possibly get. He just matured slowly.
Bush liked what he saw during Unbridled Command’s early training.
“He was a nice sized horse with a big long stride and a terrific mind. He’s a beautiful horse to be around – kind and easy to gallop. He’s not hard on himself. He had a lot of the right qualities,” Bush said. “Physically, he needed to grow up. He was able to train and race and grow and develop as he trained and raced, and that made all the difference.”
Unbridled Command certainly has helped to fill the void in Bush’s stable left by the retirement last year of Get Stormy, the 2012 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap winner who earned $1.6 million.
“He’s getting ready to start breeding some mares soon. They’re up a little over 80 mares to breed to him so far, and we’re still working at it. Hopefully, we can get a few more,” Bush said. “I never had another one like him, I can promise you that.”
Giveaways On Donn Day
Gulfstream will celebrate Superstar Saturday and Donn Handicap Day with two giveaways.
Guests purchasing a program Saturday will receive a free Donn Handicap anniversary hat and a Donn Handicap pin, the third in a series of commemorative pins.
Post time is 12:45 p.m. Parking and admission are always free at Gulfstream Park.