06/15/2016 11:16AM

Unified develops into top 3-year-old prospect for Centennial Farms

Barbara D. Livingston
Unified, unbeaten in three starts, will try two turns in the Grade 3 Pegagus.

Unified has accomplished an awful lot in a short period of time. Unbeaten in three starts at three different tracks, he will tackle two turns for the first time in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens and owned by a Centennial Farms partnership, Unified won his debut going six furlongs at Gulfstream Park in February. He stretched out to seven furlongs to take the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct in April, then handled a giant leap in distance to win the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan at Belmont Park in May.

Governor Malibu, the Peter Pan runner-up, ran well in the Belmont Stakes to finish fourth despite encountering traffic problems in the stretch. Jerkens skipped the Belmont with Unified in favor of the Pegasus.

“Going to the Belmont would have been asking too much,” he said last Saturday at his Belmont Park barn. “Not that the Monmouth race will be a piece of cake. It’s two turns, he’ll have to settle, but I think he can do it. He wasn’t a run-off in the Peter Pan.”

Centennial Farms buys six to eight yearling colts annually, then puts together and manages the partnerships that own them. The goal is to develop the horses into stallions.

Centennial was by founded in 1982 by Donald V. Little, a Boston investment banker. Little died in 2012 at age 77 when a horse he was riding over jumps fell during the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla. His son, Donald V. Little Jr., is the president and co-owner of Centennial.

Unified is a Centennial Farms project through and through. Picked out at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale by veterinarian Stephen Carr and Paula Parsons, he was purchased for $325,000 and given his early lessons by Parsons at Centennial’s 65-acre farm in Middleburg, Va.

Carr and Parsons, who select all of Centennial's horses, have been with the farm since its inception. Little, 55, worked as Carr’s vet assistant in Aiken, S.C., when he was 18.

“We like to buy in that $300,000 range,” said Little, who played professional polo for 15 years. “That way, you can get a little pedigree.”

The Virginia farm has been part of Centennial’s operation since the beginning. It is adjacent to the Middleburg training center, which was founded in 1956 by the late Paul Mellon.

“We have 28 stalls and six individual paddocks,” Little said. “We have rolling hills we can take the horses up and down to build up their hind quarters. A wood-chip walk leads to the training center. It’s a nice walk over for the horses.”

Centennial has had a number of top horses over the years, including the Grade 1 winners Corinthian, Colonial Affair, and Rubiano. Centennial bought eventual Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong for $375,000 at Keeneland seven months after the elder Little’s death.

“It was pretty emotional,” Little’s son said. “We got Wicked Strong soon after my father’s passing away. Twenty of the 28 partners in the group were new to the game, and he went on to do well.”

Wicked Strong earned more than $1.9 million for Jerkens and Centennial before being retired at the end of 2015. He stood his first season at stud at Spendthrift Farm this year for a fee of $10,000.

Unified’s debut followed Wicked Strong’s retirement by a few months, and although he has a way to go, he could prove a more-than-adequate replacement.

While most of the Centennial partnerships own a group of horses, Unified was syndicated separately.

“Most of the partnerships have a few horses to spread the risk,” Little said. “But he’s an individual partnership. He’s the only horse. There are 12 partners.”