After several near misses, United scores his first stakes victory in the Grade 2 San Marcos at Santa Anita earlier this year
United will be back this weekend to contest his second Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, and his connections will no doubt be hoping he can turn around last year’s painfully-close second-place finish behind Bricks and Mortar.
This year, trainer Richard Mandella said he’ll be coming in with a new weapon: a running style discovered in his win in the G2 John Henry Turf Championship last time out.
“We decided to just jump him out, put him on the lead, and stay out of trouble,” said Mandella. “He’d been in trouble the race before and it may have cost him winning. We thought we’d let him jump out there and he really liked it. It gives us the feeling that we have options now to do whatever feels best.”
Previously, United had been prone to stalk an early leader going at a slow or moderate pace, and wait farther back off a hot pace. It’s possible the newfound versatility could give him an edge over the many European invaders in the race, including formidable foes in Magical (IRE) and Mehdaayih (GB), but Mandella wasn’t tipping his hand when it came to race strategy on Thursday.
“It never hurts to have the versatility option to go either way,” Mandella said. “But it’s too early — I haven’t seen enough of the field yet to handicap and figure out what our best strategy is. I’ll pretty much leave that up to Flavien Prat, a great jockey.”
United has been first or second in all his starts going back to the 2019 John Henry, and Mandella said he feels good about the gelding coming into the weekend. He does anticipate a challenger in Channel Maker, the Bill Mott trainee who won this year’s Sword Dancer by an impressive 5 3/4 lengths, but he doesn’t focus too much on other horses, preferring to keep eyes on his own work.
Since he’s a gelding, Mandella said it’s likely United will be back for a 6-year-old campaign. He’d tried to take the horse to this year’s G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, but evolving travel lockdowns due to COVID-19 meant he brought the horse to Dubai, schooled him in the paddock, and promptly learned they had to head home. It might be nice to try again, Mandella said in a press conference Thursday, depending upon what international travel protocols are by March 2021.
“I fully intend to keep him around as long as he’s healthy and happy,” said Mandella.
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