11/28/2012 5:01PM

Hovdey: Bush finds successor to Get Stormy rather quickly

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Benoit & Associates
Trainer Tom Bush may have another blossoming turf star in the 3-year-old Unbridled Command (right).

Well, that was pretty ugly. You don’t mind the relatives coming to town for the holidays, but you would just as soon they not go home with the big screen and the silverware.

The three biggest races of Hollywood Park’s Thanksgiving weekend Turf Festival fell like dominoes to shippers from New York when Data Link took the $250,000 Citation Handicap, Better Lucky won the $250,000 Matriarch, and Unbridled Command powered home in the $250,000 Hollywood Derby.

They keep this up and they will finally get even for Swaps beating Nashua in the ’55 Kentucky Derby.

Success by New Yorkers on the road does not exactly qualify as “man bites dog” headline news. It has been nearly half a century since Kelso couldn’t hit the board out West, and plenty of good ones have stepped up with impressive victories since. In truth, the Long Island sweep in Inglewood last weekend fit comfortably with the narrative established earlier in the month at the Breeders’ Cup when the home team won only two of the 15 events presented at Santa Anita, while New York, Kentucky, Florida, France, Ireland, and Argentina cut up the rest of the spoils.

And that’s okay. Horse racing is a healthier place when the wealth is spread around. Besides, everyone’s clock needs cleaning once in a while. Locals like Tiz Flirtatious and Ultimate Eagle ran well in defeat, but after everyone went home Californians had to console themselves with the fact that at least they got to keep Disneyland, Pismo Beach, and the Santa Monica Pier.

No one should have been surprised that Data Link put Shug McGaughey’s name in the books for the Citation (and yes, those were Ruffian’s colors he carried, courtesy of owner Stuart Janney), and the only real shock about Sheikh Mohammed winning his third Matriarch with Better Lucky was her closing odds of 35-1.

However, it was the thoroughly professional performance of the big gray Unbridled Command in the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby that both caught the eye as something special and brought forth the name of Tom Bush as a trainer who always must be taken seriously when he goes on the road.

If the name is familiar give yourself a point for being a fan of Get Stormy, a beefcake of a blood bay with a black mane, a black tail, and knee-high white stockings. If racing was the Rose Parade he would be his own float. Between May 2009 and the summer of 2012, Bush sent out Get Stormy for 25 races over a variety of turf conditions at seven different tracks, running 1-2-3 in 17 of them and earning $1.6 million and a chance at stud.

If Bush rings a bell from the distant past, even better. He was still pretty fresh on his own when he developed Exclusive Partner into a stakes winner good enough to take the 1986 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga. Later that year he was sold to R.D. Hubbard and transferred to the California stable of Richard Mandella.

“I loved that horse,” Bush said on Wednesday from Florida. “I bought my first house because of that transaction.”

Bush also established a professional relationship with Mandella, who was still winning races with Exclusive Partner at age 10.

“I give Dick a lot of credit,” Bush said. “I had some pretty lean years, and when I was struggling to get back, and losing my confidence a little, he sent me a couple of horses we took care of together. That kind of got me back in the game, and for sure gave me inspiration.”

Bush, 61, is a native of Indiana who got his early schooling with trainer Frank Myers in Florida and went on to work for Allen Jerkens and Angel Penna Sr. in New York. Jerkens needs no introduction, but for those without Google handy Penna was a Hall of Famer in four countries who trained the likes of Allez France, San San, Waya, Bold Reason, and Relaxing.

“I rode to the track with him in his car every day to watch every set for three years,” Bush said. “You get to know how a person thinks when you spend that kind of time with him. He was a good man, and he treated me very well.”

Bush and his crew said goodbye to Get Stormy in September, right around the time Unbridled Command, a son of Master Command, had gone through enough conditions to make his stakes debut in the Saranac at Belmont Park. He won by a length in very fast time over very firm ground, but it was not until he beat fellow New York-breds in a bog in the Mohawk Stakes that Bush got a tingle down his leg. The winning margin was officially 6 3/4 lengths, but his jockey, Ramon Dominguez, could have picked a number.

“I’ve never had a horse who could run on soft ground and hard ground like that,” Bush said. “I’ve never had a horse who could do both. Everybody was complaining about the soft turf in New York that day, but when Ramon came back he said he’d never ridden a horse like that on ground like that who never took a single bad step.

“I think in his case it’s his bone structure,” Bush went on. “He’s a very big horse – real long and very scopy. With the right kind of muscle tone, a horse like that just has the strength and confidence to handle any kind of ground. And he’s still growing.”

This is good news for the suddenly reemergent American turf division, now populated by such homegrown stars as Wise Dan, Little Mike, and Point of Entry. Toss in the 4-year-old version of Unbridled Command next season and Europeans may need to send a better brand of animal to compete for U.S. purses.

“I would have never dreamed I’d get another nice one like him so soon, or even get one as good as Get Stormy,” Bush said. “But this horse is even a little bit ahead of where Get Stormy was as a 3-year-old. We’ve got him at Palm Meadows now, and we’ll take a little breath before mapping out where we might want to go with him in the longer turf races. This could be fun.”