01/05/2018 12:20PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Forever Unbridled

Barbara D. Livingston
Forever Unbridled

Forever Unbridled’s first start of 2017 was postponed until June, and her entire campaign was just three starts. Perfect.

A late-runner in her races, Forever Unbridled employed the same come-from-behind style in her 5-year-old season – she stormed from behind to the top of her division.

Forever Unbridled went 3 for 3, won two Grade 1’s including the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and became an Eclipse Award finalist for the first time, as outstanding older filly or mare.

“It was a championship campaign,” trainer Dallas Stewart said.

It was an improbable rally, backed by Stewart, owner-breeder Charles Fipke, and jockeys Joel Rosario and John Velazquez. At the center of it all was a top-class mare whose late start left little margin for error.

Forever Unbridled entered 2017 following a breakout 2016 during which she won two Grade 1’s and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. But the next seven months was dedicated to rehab.

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In winter, Forever Unbridled underwent surgery for a chip in her left front ankle. Expected to be sidelined 60 days, Forever Unbridled did not race again for seven months.

“It was a little time-consuming; we were just waiting on clearance,” Stewart said. “They added an extra 30 days here and there, and she didn’t get started until late.”

Forever Unbridled returned June 17 for the Grade 2 Fleuer de Lis at Churchill Downs. Stewart admitted: “I didn’t know if she was dead ready. She just showed she’s a true campaigner.”

Forever Unbridled and Rosario lagged back, rallied wide, and won going away. She earned a mere 89 Beyer, but the prep was ideal. She would start just once more prior to the Distaff, in the four-horse Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Aug. 26 at Saratoga.

Forever Unbridled would not be able to catch loose-on-the-lead Songbird, would she? Forever Unbridled broke slowly and trailed. As usual.

And as usual, Forever Unbridled and Rosario rallied wide, took aim at Songbird, and were up late. The 98-Beyer victory, overcoming a problematic pace scenario, was better than the neck margin. Forever Unbridled was back, facing one more challenge.

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff had never been won following a layoff as long as the 69 days between Forever Unbridled’s win at Saratoga and Distaff on Nov. 3 at Del Mar. Stewart was not concerned; he knew she fired fresh.

Rosario had been her regular rider for two years, but Fipke replaced him with Velazquez for the Distaff, calling it a “business decision.” Velazquez had ridden her twice, winning both. Their record remains perfect.

Forever Unbridled settled in the Distaff, rallied wide, and won by a half-length. It was her eighth win at eight different tracks, and pushed her earnings to $3,186,880 from 17 starts.

Forever Unbridled is sired by Unbridled’s Song and was produced by Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever.