01/31/2016 9:42AM

Forever Unbridled overcomes slow pace to take Houston Ladies Classic

LeeAnn Hickman/Coady Photography
Forever Unbridled, ridden by Joel Rosario, scores as the favorite in the Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic.

Forever Unbridled should have been at a disadvantage racing well behind a slow early pace and making her move around the far turn as the tempo quickened in the Grade 3, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic on Saturday night at Sam Houston Race Park, but the emerging 4-year-old filly pushed the pace dynamics aside and ran on strongly to a 1 3/4-length win. Cali Star, unable to match late stride with the winner, edged the race’s defending champion Cassatt for second.

Trained by Dallas Stewart for owner-breeder Charles Fipke, Forever Unbridled paid $4.40 to win as the favorite in a six-horse field. Behind Cassatt came Theogony, Welcome Aboard, and Diva’s Diamond.

Florent Geroux sent Cassatt straight to the lead, and on a racing surface that might have been a touch dull (there was only one other dirt route – a claimer - on the card) she went solo through modest fractions of 24.42 and 48.79 seconds.  Chased by Diva’s Diamond and Cali Star, Cassatt upped her pace around the far turn, and a third quarter-mile of 23.70 seconds was the quickest in the race, but as Cassatt went faster, Forever Unbridled and jockey Joel Rosario went faster, too, narrowing the margin while racing three wide around the bend. She roared into the homestretch with a full head of steam, changed leads, and went right past Cassatt, drawing clear to stop the timer in 1:43.74 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.

By Unbridled’s Song and out of the Stewart-trained Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, Forever Unbridled is a full sister to Unbridled Forever, who won the Grade 1 Ballerina last summer at Saratoga but was retired with an injury before she could make another start. Forever Unbridled knocked heads with tough fillies like I’m A Chatterbox and Lovely Maria last winter at Fair Grounds in stakes for 3-year-old fillies, ran poorly in the Oaks, got the summer off, and came back a better, stronger horse in the autumn. She won the Grade 3 Comely in her final start last year at 3, and between that race and her strong score Saturday night, she looks a horse with whom to be reckoned in the older-female dirt-route division this season. A race like the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park this spring would be a natural goal.