May 25, 2024

Unified faces eight in Carter

Unified won the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park on Saturday, May 14, 2016 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

Unified is by far the lightest raced horse in Saturday’s $400,000 Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct, but the bay four-year-old has already proven himself to be a force.

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Unified captured his first three starts, including the Bay Shore Stakes (G3) and Peter Pan Stakes (G2), last spring. For the Bay Shore he earned a 107 BRIS Speed rating, and everything looked good heading into his third straight stakes try, the Pegasus Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park on June 19.

Unified suffered his first loss in that 1 1/16-mile contest and was eventually given the rest of the year off, a move Jerkens said was necessary for the Kentucky-bred’s return this season.

“It was nothing in particular,” Jerkens said in regards to the layoff. “He ran poorly (in the Pegasus), but he looked OK initially coming out of the race. Then when we got to Saratoga, he just looked like he didn’t do good up there. He lost weight and he just wasn’t surging into the bit like he was and was getting a little crampy in behind. We just stopped on him and gave him a little rest.

“He had done a lot in a short time and it looked like if we wanted to have an older horse, we should just pull the plug now and give him a good amount of time to get over everything and crank him back up.”

The vacation obviously did Unified some good as he returned to action February 25 with a game wire job in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (G3). He held by a neck over Grade 1 winner Mind Your Biscuits, who headed to Dubai after that for a three-length romp in the Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan.

“He was good and fresh and strong and he was able to take (the training),” Jerkens said. “Usually sprinter-type horses come out running because they’re usually willing workhorses in the morning. You can prepare them off a break. When he came up to it, we were confident he was going to run good.

“He was always a horse that carried good flesh until after the Monmouth race and he kind of fell away a little bit,” the conditioner added. “But he got it back over the winter and he’s held it pretty good. He hasn’t missed a beat. You got to look at it positively, that’s for sure.”

Among those Unified will face on Saturday are Tommy Macho, Spartiatis and Green Gratto.

Tommy Macho romped by 5 3/4 lengths in the Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) to kick off his five-year-old campaign on January 14 but was third, beaten 7 1/2 lengths, in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) next out. The Todd Pletcher trainee, who captured the Discovery Handicap (G3) by 4 1/4 lengths last November, returns in this spot off that subpar effort at Gulfstream.

“I think he reacted a little bit (in the Gulfstream Handicap) off the huge race prior to that and he wasn’t quite as sharp for the second one,” Pletcher explained. “So we’ve targeted this race since that one and hopefully he’ll be sharp enough that the seven-eighths will be OK for him. I think he’s probably his best at a one-turn mile but we thought this was a good alternative.”

Spartiatis brings a two-race win streak into the Carter, having just earned his first stakes credit in the Tom Fool Handicap (G3) on the inner dirt March 11. The Leon Blusiewicz-trained seven-year-old also scored against allowance/optional claiming rivals on January 21.

Green Gratto began the year with a wire victory in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) on January 16 but will have to rebound here after finishing seventh, beaten 11 lengths, in the Tom Fool last out. The Gaston Grant-conditioned seven-year-old was second in the 2015 Carter but last of eight 12 months ago in this same race.

Sharing the Wood Memorial (G1) undercard with the Carter on Saturday are the $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes (G3) and $150,000 Excelsior Stakes (G3).

The seven-furlong Bay Shore attracted a field of six, including last year’s Futurity Stakes (G3) victor Theory. That Gemologist colt returns here off a tiring 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last out in November. Also running is Caledonian, who captured the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes and Lost in the Fog Stakes in his two races thus far this season.

One race before the Carter, seven will line up in the Excelsior going 1 1/4 miles. Send It In will be looking to get back on the winning track after scoring back-to-back victories in the Haynesfield Stakes and Alex M. Robb Stakes on Aqueduct’s inner track.