03/23/2009 11:00PM

Unbridled Express back from long break

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A blast from the past has turned up in the second race Thursday at Oaklawn Park.

Unbridled Express, who has not raced since finishing third to Circular Quay in the Grade 1 Hopeful in 2006, will make his comeback in a first-level allowance at 5 1/2 furlongs. Three years ago, Unbridled Express, who is now 5, won his maiden over future Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. Since last seen, Unbridled Express has reached his physical peak, according to his trainer, Bernie Flint.

"He's absolutely gorgeous," he said. "We schooled him in the paddock and pretty much stopped traffic."

Flint schooled Unbridled Express at Fair Grounds, which closes this week. Unbridled Express has been working at the New Orleans track, with his latest drill a bullet half-mile work from the gate March 18.

"I was trying to get him to run toward the end of Fair Grounds, but the races just didn't work out his way," said Flint.

A couple of different setbacks have sidelined him since September 2006. Flint said Unbridled Express came out of the Hopeful with a slight fracture in a hind pastern.

"We stopped on him and turned him out," he said. "Then he kicked through a fence and injured his hocks, got splinters in the hocks. He's fine now."

Unbridled Express worked in 47.40 seconds the other morning at Fair Grounds. He will break from post 1, and is to be ridden by Francisco Torres. Flint said he is comfortable with Unbridled Express's fitness level for Thursday.

"Now we all don't know what a horse will do after two and half years, but he's had a sufficient amount of works and seems to be himself," he said. "He's a beautiful horse. Let's hope everything works his way."

Others in the field Thursday include the consistent Valid Rule, who was second to Win Willy in a six-furlong optional claimer. Win Willy returned in his next start to win the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn with a Beyer of 102. Chris Richard trains Valid Rule, and has given the mount to Eddie Razo.

Red Thunder is a five-time winner who in his last start won a $16,000 optional claiming sprint at six furlongs, covering the distance in a sharp 1:10.60. Eddie Martin Jr. has the mount for trainer Allen Milligan.