The sign of a good horse is when they are taken out of their element and still find a way to win.
United has turned into one of the best turf horses in the country, and he proved it on Saturday with a game win in the $ 300,000 Grade II Charles Whittingham rings in Santa Anita.
Whittingham, who died in 1999 at the age of 86, was one of the best trainers ever and would love United’s performance. It was the type of victory that many of his best peat horses enjoyed during his heyday.
The 5-year-old rugged son of Giant’s Causeway, trained by Richard Mandella, is at his best when chasing horses and catching them in the final stages of a race. He used that tactic to almost catch last year’s horse of the year, bricks and mortar, in the final stages of the Breeders’ Cup Turf in Santa Anita.
United had to settle for second place that day and entered the Whittingham for second place in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar on December 1 and a victory in the Grade II San Marcos rings in Santa Anita on February 1 .
There was little speed in Saturday’s race, so Flavien Prat was second to United for much of the 1 1/4-mile grass race, led pacer Synthesis at the head of the piece and then had to dig and hold as even-money favorite Rockemperor and Originaire came home.
“It’s not the type of race he likes,” said Prat. “He is better if he has a few horses in front and a faster pace. Those two horses (Rockemperor and Originaire) have a really good kick and it is (taking the lead early in the play) not what United likes to do.
“He did a great job today.”
United, which has won five of the thirteen starts for a profit of $ 1,133,549, was held by a nose on the eastern shipper Rockemperor, who was disqualified and placed third for meddling against the original third place, Originaire.
Prat seemed to get into trouble on the sixteenth pole, but like most good horses, United dove in and won despite unfavorable tactics.
Four of United’s five wins have come since he turned 4 and he seems to improve as he gets older.
“I thought I was second,” said Prat. “On the way back, I looked at the bolsa board and an investigation came. What did I say? I was not involved in that. And then I realized I had won. That was pretty cool. It was finished today.
“He gets better and better every race.”
The last time for the grass marathon was 2: 00.34 after Synthesis set moderate fractions of 24.78, 48.88, and 1: 12.74 before fading to stand in the six-horse field.
United, the second choice in bets at 6-5, gave Mandella his second win in the ring. He won with Sandpit in 1996 when it was the Hollywood Turf Handicap and was run in Hollywood Park.
It was Prats first win at Whittingham. The 27-year-old Frenchman tripled on Saturday and has won five races in the first two days of Santa Anita’s race weekend.
“With everything we’ve been through, this is the icing on the cake as far as we’re going to race again here in Santa Anita,” said Mandella. “I wanted to win him since the race was renamed to Charlie. He was such a special man and he meant so much to our game.”
In support of the day, the $ 100,000 Grade III Daytona Stakes, Wildman Jack, the 2-1 favorite, resisted an investigation to beat the 70-1 longshot Sparky Ville with a nose under Mike Smith for trainer Doug O’Neill.