05/20/2001 11:00PM

Unshaded wins in return

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Unshaded made his comeback from a lengthy layoff a triumphant one when he raced to a relatively comfortable 1 1/4-length victory in the eighth race Thursday at Churchill Downs, a $55,220 allowance.

Unshaded, regarded as one of the top 3-year-olds of 2000 after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes and winning the Travers Stakes, was fifth of six in the early going before making a sweeping outside move on the far turn. The 1 1/16-mile race was the first for the Unbridled gelding since his Aug. 26 Travers victory.

"He really needed this," said trainer Carl Nafzger. "We'll go next in the Stephen Foster," the Grade 2 $750,000 fixture to be run here June 16.

Unshaded, owned by Jim Tafel and ridden by Robby Albarado, finished in 1:42.11 over a fast track and returned $3 as a strong favorite. Da Devil, winner of the 1999 Kentucky Cup Classic, rallied from last to finish second. Neon Shadow, who set most of the pace, finished third.

Unshaded had been laid off because of a minor tendon lesion, which was diagnosed soon after the Travers, then surgically repaired. Nafzger, who said he is ecstatic that the gelding appears to have returned "the right way," is harboring hopes that the gelding can enter Horse of the Year contention later in the season.