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Unbridled's Song a game changer
It felt, at first, like a kick in the gut for Taylor Made Farm and bloodstock agent Buzz Chace: A big client’s 2-year-old from Unbridled’s eagerly anticipated first crop had just sold for a world-record $1.4 million, only to be returned by the buyer.
The issue was a spot on the colt’s X-ray that buyer Hiroshi Fujita believed could be an ankle chip. Taylor Made, the colt’s consigning agent, thought the deal could be salvaged, but its client, Ernie Paragallo, didn’t hesitate. He took his colt back.
At the time, it appeared to be a crushing blow for Taylor Made Sales and Chace, who had selected the colt for Paragallo and entered him in the Barretts select juvenile auction in the spring of 1995. The Taylor brothers and Chace were lifelong horsemen who would have gained a great deal – both financially and professionally – from the world-record sale.
But the deal’s failure turned out to be one of their luckiest moments. If the sale had gone through, Unbridled’s Song would have gone to Japan. Instead, he stayed in America, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, became a highly successful sire at Taylor Made Farm, and changed the lives of Chace and the Taylor family as he rose to prominence.
“He was a rising tide that lifted all boats,” Ben Taylor, vice president of Taylor Made Stallions, said less than a week after Unbridled’s Song died July 26 at age 20. “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.”
Mandysland Farm bred Unbridled’s Song in Kentucky. Coincidentally, he spent some time as a foal at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., before joining Derry Meeting Farm’s consignment for the 1994 Saratoga select yearling sale.
“We’ve got a picture of him that our farm photographer took, and he’s still on the mare’s side at our farm,” Mark Taylor, Taylor Made’s vice president of marketing and public sales operations, said with a laugh. “We could have bought him for $60,000 as a weanling, but we were too cheap, and we weren’t going to take a shot on a first-year sire and pay 60 grand for this horse.”
Granite gray and charismatic, Unbridled’s Song caught Chace’s eye the next summer at the Saratoga sales grounds. It was good timing: Chace had just picked up a wealthy young client, Paragallo, then a 36-year-old who was eager to put some of his software fortune into a pinhooking and racing venture. But when the yearling Unbridled’s Song stepped out of his Fasig-Tipton sale barn for Chace to view, the agent was looking at him for another client.
That client received some bad racing news, and “he kind of got pouting a little bit,” Chace recalled. “Ernie was there, so I told the first man, ‘Whatever happens, if you want to stop [pursuing the horse], then Ernie will bid on him.’ So, Ernie and I bid on Unbridled’s Song, and we outbid Wayne Lukas for the horse.” They paid $200,000.
“[When] I first saw him, I just fell in love with him,” Chace said of Unbridled’s Song. “There were knocks on the horse: He was close behind, his airway wasn’t big enough, but we ended up with a good horse.
“I just loved the way he walked. He had that beautiful, long walk, with his neck swinging back and forth, and long neck. I loved his conformation and the way he handled himself, and I liked the sire line.”
The colt’s dam, a Caro daughter and one-time winner Trolley Song, didn’t add much on the surface. “But those Caro mares give you that little bit of nervousness you look for in a horse,” Chace said. “Good horses always have a little bit of that.”
After Saratoga, Unbridled’s Song returned to Taylor Made’s care, this time en route to breaking and training with Bob Scanlon. By the time he arrived at the Barretts sales grounds in Pomona, Calif., in March 1995, the colt’s blazing speed and fluid stride had made him a sensation.
“Every morning, there would be a flock of people, a mixture of photographers, news people, other pinhookers, and backside people,” recalled Mark Taylor, who spent two weeks at Barretts before the sale. “As soon as they heard this big, gray colt was going to the track, he’d have this entourage that would follow him out and watch him train. Nobody had seen a 2-year-old in training like this. It built up to a crescendo.”
Unbridled’s Song’s $1.4 million price meant a $70,000 commission for Taylor Made, as well as great headlines. But when the Taylors got word that Fujita was worried about the potential ankle chip, their dream sale quickly evaporated.
“We were all at a Waffle House somewhere around Pomona – that’s where we were celebrating,” Mark Taylor said. “We were thinking maybe we’d knock $50,000 off and still get the deal done and make our commission. But Ernie didn’t even bat an eye. He was like, ‘I’ve been sick ever since the hammer fell. Tell [Fujita] this is the best news I’ve heard all day. I want the horse back. And tell him to watch the Breeders’ Cup in November.’ We were completely deflated. We thought, ‘Now we have to fly back to Lexington with our tails between our legs, and the whole mission was a disaster.’ ”
Chace also was devastated: Paragallo had promised him 10 percent of any sale proceeds.
“So, when they turned Unbridled’s Song back in California, I was sick,” Chace said. “But Ernie stuck to his deal. He gave me 10 percent of Unbridled’s Song, and that also meant four shares when he went to stud. Ernie Paragallo changed my life. I’ve worked for a lot of people, and nobody does that. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Chace remained close to Unbridled’s Song throughout the horse’s highly publicized racing campaign. He held the trophy when they took Unbridled’s Song’s win picture at the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He was there when the colt roared to a 5 3/4-length Florida Derby win the following year, leaving future Belmont winner Editor’s Note and future Horse of the Year Skip Away in his wake. And Chace helped soak Unbridled’s Song’s hoof when an abscess threatened his start in the 1996 Kentucky Derby. Running in egg bar shoes, he finished fifth.
The next year, Unbridled’s Song returned to Taylor Made for good as the farm’s first stallion.
“Ernie Paragallo loved the horse and wanted to keep him,” Ben Taylor said. “A lot of times, when we’re trying to get a stallion prospect, we’re competing with people with deep pockets. But this horse really wasn’t on the market. People had offered him a lot of money, and he wasn’t going to sell him.”
Paragallo retained a large interest in his prized colt initially, but by the time of Unbridled’s Song’s death, his involvement had dwindled to what Ben Taylor called “limited ownership.” In 2010, he was convicted on 33 counts of animal cruelty after New York state police and the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA raided a farm he owned and found dozens of horses neglected and starving; six were euthanized.
Unbridled’s Song’s story was happier. He was a hit from the start, said Steve Castagnola. Castagnola, who operates Kempton Bloodstock in Lexington, then worked for Ben Taylor in stallion marketing and administration as Taylor Made launched its stallion division.
“When he debuted at Saratoga [and won by 8 1/2 lengths, announcer] Tom Durkin said the trees swayed when he came down the lane, and from that point, he captured the imagination of the public and breeders alike,” Castagnola remembered. “The response from breeders was overwhelming. The hardest part of my job was telling them, ‘Sorry, we can’t accommodate you this year.’ It was more a question of selecting a diverse group of mares that we thought would suit him.
“He helped vault Taylor Made to where they are today,” Castagnola added. “When top race fillies were retiring and their owners were trying to decide what avenue to take for the second career, he was the trump card. That helped grow Taylor Made’s boarding division and really pushed the public sales division. He was the foundation that made many aspects of Taylor Made grow. We could say, ‘Yes, we can sell you an Unbridled’s Song season for your mare, and we’d really like to sell her for you at the November sales.’ ”
But some also criticized Unbridled’s Song as a source of unsoundness, particularly after his daughter Eight Belles broke down fatally after her second-place finish in the 2008 Derby. Others suggest different issues might also factor into soundness issues among the Unbridled’s Song progeny: trainers who rush his precocious runners early or breeders who brought well-bred but less-sound mares to him.
“He was not a source of soundness, but he wasn’t a source of unsoundness either, in my opinion,” Ben Taylor said.
“I don’t see that much difference between him and some of the other top stallions, as far as soundness goes,” said Castagnola. “Some of it could be bad luck; some of it could be poor management on the part of an owner or trainer. But for all the knocks people might give him, it never stopped them from buying [his foals] in the sales ring or submitting mares to him. I think he’ll prove to be a fantastic broodmare sire.”
Unbridled’s Song’s legacy to the Thoroughbred, Ben Taylor believes, lies in his conformation and size. “At the end of the day, his influence in general will live a long time,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of nice mares and stallion prospects that I think are going to carry on.
“We grew up in the horse business, and we went to Claiborne Farm, and we were in awe of all these other farms and all these people who had been very, very successful. And I remember one day, when Unbridled’s Song was breeding three mares a day, I went out in the morning, and there was Claiborne’s yellow van [in our lot]. Then that afternoon, Juddmonte’s van was there. That night, Lane’s End. I remember thinking, never in my wildest imagination did I think Claiborne would be shipping a mare from Paris to Nicholasville to breed to one of our stallions.”
Unbridled’s Song’s career was inextricably linked to Taylor Made’s – from his first stop there as a foal when the Taylors didn’t buy him, to his return before the sale when they almost wished they had, to his non-sale at Barretts.
“It was like divine intervention,” Mark Taylor concluded. “It was almost like every time we tried to get away from this horse, he kept coming back to us. Ernie was convinced that this horse was the second coming, the next great horse. It was probably foolish that Ernie held onto the horse, if you look at it statistically. But thank God he did. We were the beneficiaries.”
1993, gr. or ro. h.,
Unbridled—Trolley Song, by Caro
Owner: Paraneck Stable
Breeder: Mandysland Farm (Ky.)
Trainers: Nick Zito (final two starts); Jim Ryerson (first 10 starts)
|Age||Starts||1st (SW)||2nd (SP)||3rd (SP)||Earnings|
|3||8||2 (2)||4 (3)||0||698,800|
|Total||12||5 (4)||4 (3)||0||1,311,800|
At 2: 1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile [G1]
At 3: 1st Florida Derby [G1], Wood Memorial S. [G2]; 2nd Fountain of Youth S. [G2], Peter Pan S. [G2], Hutcheson S. [G2]
At 4: 1st Olympic H. [L]
UNBRIDLED’S SONG AT STUD
Stood at: Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., for his entire career, from 1997 through 2013 (17 seasons)
Foals of racing age: 1,456 foals in first 14 crops
Stakes winners: 100
Graded or group stakes winners: 44
Stakes placers: 88
Average earnings per starter: $84,825
Champions sired: Midshipman (2008, 2-year-old male in U.S.); Embur’s Song (2011, older female in Canada)
Statistics through July 29, 2013
MIDSHIPMAN, 2006, ch. c., out of Fleet Lady, by Avenue of Flags. 5 wins in 8 starts in North America and UAE, $1,584,600. Champion 2-year-old male. 1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Del Mar Futurity (G1); 2nd Norfolk S. (G1); 3rd Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
EMBUR’S SONG, 2007, b. f., out of Embur Sunshine, by Bold Ruckus. 6 wins in 13 starts, $616,926. Canadian champion older female. 1st Doubledogdare S. (G3), Ontario Matron S. (Can-G3), Hendrie S. (Can-G3), Windward S.; 2nd Seaway S. (Can-G3), Bison City S.; 3rd Bessarabian S. (G3), Woodbine Oaks.
UNRIVALED BELLE, 2006, gr. or ro. f., out of Queenie Belle, by Bertrando. 6 wins in 14 starts, $1,854,706. 1st Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1), La Troienne S. (G2), Rampart S. (G3), Real Prize S.; 2nd Beldame S. (G1), Gazelle S. (G1), Ruffian Invitational H. (G1), Ogden Phipps H. (G1), La Troienne S. (G2); 3rd Rampart S. (G3).
UNBRIDLED ELAINE, 1998, gr. or ro. f., out of Carols Folly, by Taylor’s Falls. 6 wins in 11 starts, $1,770,740. 1st Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Monmouth Breeders’ Cup Oaks (G2), Iowa Oaks, Pocahontas S.; 2nd Pennsylvania Derby (G3); 3rd Falls City H. (G3).
OCTAVE, 2004, gr. or ro. f., out of Belle Nuit, by Dr. Carter. 4 wins in 13 starts, $1,660,934. 1st Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Mother Goose S. (G1), Adirondack Breeders’ Cup S. (G2); 2nd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), Kentucky Oaks (G1), Ashland S. (G1), Matron S. (G1), Fitz Dixon Cotillion H. (G2), Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), Astoria S.; 3rd Alabama S. (G1), Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
ZENSATIONAL, 2006, gr. or ro. r., out of Joke, by Phone Trick. 5 wins in 8 starts, $669,300. 1st Bing Crosby S. (G1), Pat O’Brien S. (G1), Triple Bend H. (G1).
THORN SONG, 2003, gr. or ro. c., out of Festal, by Storm Bird. 8 wins in 29 starts, $1,132,700. 1st Shadwell Turf Mile S. (G1), Shoemaker Mile S. (G1), Firecracker H. (G2), River City H. (G3); 2nd Knickerbocker H. (G3); 3rd Maker’s Mark Mile S. (G1), Fourstardave H. (G2).
SPLENDID BLENDED, 2002, ch. f., out of Valid Blend, by Valid Appeal. 7 wins in 13 starts, $742,060. 1st Hollywood Starlet S. (G1), Vanity Invitational H. (G1), Shirley Jones Breeders’ Cup H. (G2), Steve Van Buren H., Marina de Chavon S.; 2nd Oak Leaf S.
EIGHT BELLES, 2005, gr. or ro. f., out of Away, by Dixieland Band. 5 wins in 10 starts, $708,650. 1st Fantasy S. (G2), Honeybee S. (G3), Martha Washington S.; 2nd Kentucky Derby (G1).
FIRST DEFENCE, 2004, b. c., out of Honest Lady, by Seattle Slew. 6 wins in 14 starts, $580,534. 1st Forego H. (G1), Jaipur S. (G3), Long Branch Breeders’ Cup S.; 2nd King’s Bishop S. (G1), Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G2).
ROCKPORT HARBOR, 2002, gr. or ro. c., out of Regal Miss Copelan, by Copelan. 5 wins in 8 starts, $324,800. 1st Remsen S. (G2), Nashua S. (G3), Essex H. (G3); 2nd Rebel S. (G3).
HALF OURS, 2003, gr. or ro. c., out of Zing, by Storm Cat. 5 wins in 7 starts, $319,680. 1st Richter Scale Spring Championship H. (G2), Three Chimneys Juvenile S.; 2nd Alysheba S. (G3).
GRAYDAR, 2009, gr. or ro. c., out of Sweetest Smile, by Dehere. 4 wins in 5 starts, 2013, $601,560. 1st Donn H. (G1), New Orleans H. (G2).
BUDDHA, 1999, gr. or ro. c., out of Cahooters, by Storm Cat. 3 wins in 4 starts, $489,600. 1st Wood Memorial S. (G1).
OLD FASHIONED, 2006, gr. or ro. c., out of Collect Call, by Meadowlake. 4 wins in 6 starts, $583,280. 1st Remsen S. (G2), Southwest S. (G3); 2nd Arkansas Derby (G2), Rebel S. (G2).
WILL TAKE CHARGE, 2010, ch. c., out of Take Charge Lady, by Dehere. 3 wins in 11 starts, 2013, $665,371. 1st Rebel S. (G2), Smarty Jones S.; 2nd Jim Dandy S. (G2), Remington Springboard Mile S.