08/29/2013 3:41PM

John P. Sparkman: Requiem for a Song

Barbara D. Livingston
The late Unbridled's Song is represented by another Grade 1 performer in Travers winner Will Take Charge.

I fell in love with Unbridled’s Song the first time I saw him at the 1994 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings. Though already more than 16 hands, he moved with such fluid grace that it was obvious he possessed tremendous potential despite less-than-perfect forelegs.

That athletic ease translated into unprecedented speed seven months later at the 1995 Barretts sale of selected 2-year-olds in training, where I was lucky enough to witness the big gray “make the palm trees sway” when he became the first horse to breeze one furlong in less than 10 seconds at a 2-year-old sale.

That justified Japanese owner Hiroshi Fujita’s $1.4 million bid a few days later, making the Unbridled colt the first seven-figure 2-year-old sold at auction. When the buyer didn’t like an ankle X-ray, owner Ernie Paragallo, whose bloodstock agent and racing manager, Buzz Chace, had paid $200,000 for Unbridled’s Song at Saratoga, was happy to take him back.

Unbridled’s Song’s flawless action carried him to victories in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Florida Derby and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, but the fragility inherent in his 17-hand frame, slightly crooked legs, and somewhat delicate hooves limited him to 12 career starts.

Despite enormous success at stud, Unbridled’s Song has been slightly less easy to love as a stallion. Too many of his 102 stakes winners from 1,361 foals ages 3 and up (7.5 percent stakes winners to foals) have been, as one famous bloodstock agent put it, “made of glass.” Those 1,361 foals have averaged fewer than 10 career starts, even fewer than the historically pitiable current average for the breed.

Will Take Charge, this year’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner, might be an exception to that trend in Unbridled’s Song’s progeny. The Travers was his 12th career start and his eighth this year, and he has been sound enough to withstand the training and racing regimen of his Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, who is a firm believer in the dictum that you cannot win a race you do not enter.

Some of the credit for Will Take Charge’s durability must go to his dam, Take Charge Lady, who, despite her own sire, Dehere, having raced only nine times, made 22 starts in a career that included two victories in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes and a win in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. Tough, sound, and notably game, Take Charge Lady was a natural front-runner who won half of her starts and finished second on seven other occasions, earning $2,480,377.

A $175,000 yearling buy by trainer Ken McPeek, Take Charge Lady raced for the Select Stable partnership, which sold her to Eaton Sales, agent, for $4.2 million, in foal to Seeking the Gold, at the 2004 Keeneland November breeding-stock sale. Eaton has made its money back, selling four of her yearlings for a total of $4,510,000, but $3.2 million of that was for that Seeking the Gold filly she was carrying in 2004, Charming, who won once in only three starts.

Take Charge Lady’s son Take Charge Indy, by A.P. Indy, failed to meet his reserve at $80,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale but paid no attention to that as a racehorse, winning the 2012 Grade 1 Florida Derby and the 2013 Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes and earning $1,103,496.

Longtime Lukas client Willis D. Horton paid $425,000 for Will Take Charge at the 2011 Keeneland September sale, the morning after Take Charge Indy finished second in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Take Charge Lady was a half-sister to restricted stakes winner Eventail, by Lear Fan, when purchased as a yearling, but Eventail has since produced multiple graded stakes winner Straight Story, by Giant’s Causeway, and Take Charge Lady’s younger half-brother Commendation, by Capote, won the 2003 Bourbon County Stakes. Their dam, the unraced Rubiano mare Felicita, is a half-sister to English jump stakes winner Rogerdor, by Tom Rolfe, and stakes-placed leading Louisiana sire Zarbyev, by Nureyev. Felicita’s half-sister She’s Got Class, by Trempolino, is the dam of 2010 Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge, by War Chant.

Overall, it is a good but not really distinguished family descending from Will Take Charge’s fifth dam, Times Two, by Double Jay, a stakes-placed half-sister to 1953 Belmont and Preakness third-place runner Royal Bay Gem, by Royal Gem II. Other than Take Charge Lady and her brood, the best descendants of Times Two are probably 1973 Blue Grass Stakes winner My Gallant, by Gallant Man, three German highweights, and a Canadian champion.

Will Take Charge is inbred 3x4 to Fappiano through two of his champion sons, Unbridled and Rubiano, and carries the In Reality inbreeding (5x6) that is very common in Unbridled’s Song’s top progeny. Grade 1 winners Unrivaled Belle, Unbridled Elaine, First Defence, Political Force, and Splendid Blended all carry multiple crosses of In Reality.

Unbridled’s Song has reliably injected class into his offspring, regardless of how sound they might be. Will Take Charge is his 17th Grade 1 winner and his 45th group or graded stakes winner, numbers that include Breeders’ Cup winners Midshipman (out of Fleet Lady, by Avenue of Flags), Unrivaled Belle (Queenie Belle, by Bertrando), and Unbridled Elaine (Carols Folly, by Taylor’s Falls).

Midshipman earned 2008 champion 2-year-old male honors with his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory but managed only four subsequent starts. A big, handsome horse of tremendous substance, very typical of Unbridled’s Song, he now stands at Darley. Unbridled’s Song’s only other official champion is 2011 Canadian older female Embur’s Song (Embur Sunshine, by Bold Ruckus), but he has sired many other more exciting, sensational runners.

Cross Traffic (Stop Traffic, by Cure the Blues) won the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational earlier in the Saratoga meeting, his third win in five starts, all this year at age 4. The similarly lightly raced Graydar, bred just like Will Take Charge out of the Dehere mare Sweetest Smile, has won four of five starts, including this year’s Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

Several other sons of Unbridled’s Song have shown brilliant early form at 2 and 3, only to break down before fully exploiting their possibilities, including Old Fashioned (Collect Call, by Meadowlake), Rockport Harbor (Regal Miss Copelan, by Copelan), Winslow Homer (Summer Raven, by Summer Squall), and Buddha (Cahooters, by Storm Cat).

Many of his brilliant but fragile sons have been given opportunities at stud, but so far, his only sons to sire Grade 1 winners are Even the Score (Ashtabula, by Rahy), a sound, tough multiple Grade 2 winner who won nine of 29 starts, and First Defence (Honest Lady, by Seattle Slew), a more brilliant sprinter-miler who was able to race for three seasons, albeit not terribly frequently, with six wins in 14 starts, including a win in the Grade 1 Forego in 2008.

The stud record of Rockport Harbor has begun to improve somewhat this year, the first offspring of the very handsome Old Fashioned will race this year, and Midshipman’s first foals are yearlings. Cross Traffic, Graydar, and Will Take Charge all will get good opportunities at stud, and breeders might be wise to remember that as great a sire as Sadler’s Wells was widely considered a failure as a sire of sires until Galileo and Montjeu came along late in life.

Whatever his faults, the quality was always there in Unbridled’s Song, and it is entirely fitting that his offspring have had great success since he died July 26. Unbridled’s Song was one of those horses who changed the life of the humans around him for the better.

Ernie Paragallo gave Buzz Chace 10 percent of the horse for his expertise in selecting and managing him, and the four breeding rights that translated to helped make Chace a wealthy man before his death Aug. 18. The Taylor boys of Taylor Made Farm failed to collect the $70,000 commission they would have been due on Unbridled’s Song’s sale at Barretts, but the horse became the ideal, highly profitable first stallion to stand at Taylor Made.

As Ben Taylor, vice president of Taylor Made Stallions, told Daily Racing Form’s Glenye Cain Oakford after Unbridled’s Song’s death, “He was a rising tide that lifted all boats. He made a lot of people look smart. It was hard to mess up, being around him, because he was just that talented. He lived up to expectations from Day 1, in every phase of his career.”