Updated on 09/16/2011 7:38AM

Better late than never

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
De Bertie picks up Jerry Bailey for the Escena. Trainer Steve Flint would like her close to the pace.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Unlike other fillies and mares in trainer Mark Hennig's barn, Unrestrained did not distinguish herself at an early age. But if Unrestrained follows her family tree, it could be a big year for this daughter of Unbridled.

Unrestrained is a half-sister to Colonial Minstrel and Minidar, who both became graded stakes winners at age 4. Friday, Unrestrained kicks off her 4-year-old campaign in the ungraded $65,000 Escena Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

An evenly matched group of 13 was entered for the Escena, a 1 1/16-mile dirt raced named for Allen Paulson's champion older mare of 1998.

Unrestrained may have run the best race of her career in a losing effort last summer when she finished second in the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks. The winner, Unbridled Elaine, would win the Breeders' Cup Distaff in October. Following the Monmouth Oaks, Unrestrained ran three times, winning the Summit Stakes at The Meadowlands in October.

In her final start of 2001, Unrestrained finished fourth in the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at Aqueduct. Hennig said that Unrestrained "scoped full of mucus" following that race.

Since shipping to south Florida, Unrestrained has trained well at Payson Park including a five-furlong move in 1:02.80 on Dec. 24, the best of 22 at the distance. Last year, Unrestrained won a maiden race here by 8 1/2 lengths.

"She seems like she's come around, and I know she likes it here," Hennig said. "This is where she turned the corner last year."

Happily Unbridled, another daughter of Unbridled, comes off a neck loss to Extend in the Stage Door Betty Handicap at Calder, where she raced close to a slow pace while on the inside part of the track.

"I think the fact no one wanted the lead and we were on the inside, which happened to be the slowest part of the track that day," trainer Happy Alter said when asked the difference between winning and losing that race. Edgar Prado will ride Happily Unbridled, replacing regular rider Cornelio Velasquez. According to Alter, Velasquez's agent Gil Graell had taken a call on Sara's Success before confirming whether Alter was running.

The likely Escena favorite will be *, who won both the Sabin and Rampart handicaps over this track last winter. Her late-running style makes her a victim of pace, but trainer Steve Flint hopes new rider Jerry Bailey can keep her closer if the fractions are slow. Bailey replaces the suspended Jorge Chavez.

"Jorge might have been set in his ways and he took her back," Flint said. "Jerry has to get her a little closer."

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