01/31/2015 5:47PM

Unitarian relishes two-mile distance of Allen Jerkens

Barbara D. Livingston
Unitarian, ridden by Javier Castellano, scores by 3 1/2 lengths as the favorite in the Allen Jerkens Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - They just can’t card enough two-mile races on turf for Todd Pletcher.

Pletcher, a seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, is obviously pretty darn good at preparing horses to run any distance. But he kept his record unblemished in two-mile grass races after sending Unitarian out to an impressive 3 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s inaugural running of the $75,000 Allen Jerkens Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The other time he saddled a horse for a two-mile turf marathon, Pletcher won the Belmont Gold Cup last spring with Charming Kitten.

Unitarian, who won the Grade 2 Elkhorn last season at Keeneland, benefitted from a perfect trip under leading rider Javier Castellano. Rating about seven or eight lengths off the pace of Reflecting, Unitarian launched his bid leaving the backstretch for the final time and finished strong down the center of the course to readily pull away from Artic North in the final furlong. Reflecting held gamely on the front end into the stretch before gradually weakening, finishing another 1 ¾ lengths farther back in third.

Unitarian, a 5-year-old son of Pulpit bred by his owner, Robert Evans, returned $5.40 after completing the grueling distance in 3.23.22.

“We thought this horse’s style would suit the distance well,” said Pletcher. “We thought he had the right temperament for it because he turns off in the early part of the race. He got a great trip. It worked out exactly as we talked about in the paddock. He was able to save ground for three turns and I actually thought he put in a pretty explosive kick for a race at this distance. It was fun to watch.” 

Pletcher was also touched by being able to win a race named after the legendary Allen Jerkens.

"When the stakes calendar came out and I saw that race I said 'Man, I'd like to win that'. That would be cool. Chief is a legend, not only as a trainer but as a person. I don't think there is a trainer on the grounds who hasn't gone to Mr. Jerkens at some point and asked him for advice."

Pletcher said the Belmont Gold Cup would be a goal for Unitarian “if it’s on the calendar” again this year.  He also mentioned the Grade 3 Pan American, at a mere 1 1/2 miles, as a likely option on March 28.