February 8, 2023

United handles cutback in Eddie Read, enters Pacific Classic picture

United and jockey Flavien Prat return to the winner's circle following victory in the Eddie Read Stakes (G2) (Benoit Photo)

Trainer Richard Mandella had options elsewhere for his turf star United, so it was significant that the Hall of Famer had the confidence to shorten him up to 1 1/8 miles in Sunday’s $200,500 Eddie Read Stakes (G2). After the 7-5 favorite handled the cutback with aplomb at Del Mar, Mandella offered a bolder idea: possibly trying dirt, and Maximum Security, in the Aug. 22 Pacific Classic (G1).

“We ran him short just to pick his head up,” Mandella said of the Eddie Read. “Sometimes you run them long too many times, they get stale.

“But this horse is training so well on the dirt, month after month, I’m going to consider running him in the Pacific Classic. I’ve been thinking all summer about it. We’ll think about the Del Mar Handicap (G2) on turf too (also Aug. 22), but if he keeps training on dirt as well as he has been…”

By “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway and a half-brother to Harlan Punch, a Grade 3 winner on dirt, United has a pedigree suggesting surface versatility. And unlike last year, when he was still figuring things out on the upgrade, the mature 5-year-old is sharper than ever, as his Eddie Read attests.

With his marquee pieces of form coming in the 10- to 12-furlong range, United had to have gears to dismiss a few rivals proven in this vicinity. The LNJ Foxwoods colorbearer did just that, assisted by regular rider Flavien Prat who helped navigate an ideal trip.

The Eddie Read didn’t figure to have a pace meltdown, so United needed to keep close tabs on the controlling speed Neptune’s Storm. The big gelding had the tactical foot to put himself in that favorable position, shadowing Neptune’s Storm through fractions of :23.88, :47.84, and 1:11.68 on the firm Jimmy Durante turf.

Prat glanced over his shoulder turning for home, but no threats were emerging yet from farther back. United ranged alongside Neptune’s Storm, and once able to deploy his giant stride in the stretch, overpowered the early leader.

There was at last a closer arriving belatedly in Sharp Samurai, who sliced through from last on the inside. But United had done enough to maintain a half-length margin in a sprightly time of 1:46.71.

Neptune’s Storm checked in another half-length back in third. Defending champion Bowies Hero, who was lying perhaps a bit closer than he prefers, boxed on determinedly without really kicking in fourth. Originaire and Cleopatra’s Strike, who have crossed swords with United going longer, rounded out the order of finish. Combatant was scratched after his slow-starting last in Saturday’s San Diego H. (G2).

“The race came up perfect,” Prat recapped. “He broke real well and we got a great spot. We went along fine and when I asked him, he just went on with it. When you ride a really good horse like this, it makes things easier. Good horses do good things; they put you in good spots. It’s all easier with his kind.”

United was formerly a bridesmaid. His best near-miss was to Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in last fall’s 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and he also placed in the 2019 Charles Whittingham (G2), John Henry Turf Championship (G2), and Hollywood Turf Cup (G2).

Earning his first stakes victory in the Feb. 1 San Marcos (G2), United experienced a fruitless trip to Dubai for the canceled Sheema Classic (G1). But he picked up right where he left off by taking the May 23 renewal of the Charles Whittingham, an indicator of how far he’d progressed since this time a year ago. The Eddie Read extended his 2020 record to 3-for-3, and improved his overall resume to 14-6-3-1, $1,253,549.

United was bred by Rosemont Farm in Kentucky and first sold for $240,000 as a Keeneland November weanling. The chestnut went to his current connections for $300,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. He is a half-brother to the aforementioned Harlan Punch as well as to Louisiana-bred stakes scorer Tensas Front and Irish Group 3-placed Royal Navy Ship. Their dam, the Pulling Punches mare Indy Punch, is herself a half to Grade 2-placed stakes winner Galloping Gal, who produced Grade 1 hero Liaison.

Further back, United traces to the famed Calumet family descending from Hall of Famer Real Delight.