Pletcher's Unitarian delivers uplifting rally on Keeneland's closing day

awincze@herald-leader.comApril 25, 2014 

UNITARIAN - The Dixiana Elkhorn - 29th Running - 04-25-14 - R09

Unitarian (3) raced to victory Friday in the Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland.


Doing things quickly hasn't always been Unitarian's strong point.

It took the 4-year-old eight tries before he finally visited a winner's circle. And after scoring back-to-back allowance wins at the start of 2014, his first outing against stakes company was one trainer Todd Pletcher simply drew a line through.

With jockey Javier Castellano delivering right-handed urging, Unitarian made a statement in a hurry Friday when he rallied from the clouds in the 13-horse field to capture the Grade II, $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes on the closing day of the Keeneland Spring Meet.

Getting a Pletcher horse at double-digit odds in a graded stakes is a relatively rare occurrence. There was a reason Unitarian was sent to post at 18-1 odds, though, as the bay colt was seventh and last in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 22.

"I think it took him awhile to put everything together," Pletcher said. "He just kind of gave us the impression he was a horse that would improve with age. I told (owner) Robert Evans awhile back he would be a better 4-year-old than 3-year-old. He's just a horse who took a little while to find himself."

The excuse for Unitarian in the Fair Grounds Handicap was a dislike for the track's turf course, which was rated as good that day.

The firm ground at Keeneland ended up being ideal for the colt's closing kick as he rated third-to-last in the field as Tattenham led the procession through an opening half-mile in :51.14 for the 11/2 mile turf race.

Castellano got Unitarian rolling around the final turn, advancing just outside of Admiral Kitten, but still only had about four horses beat at the head of the lane.

"I really liked the way the race unfolded for a come-from-behind horse," Castellano said. "I took my time. It's a mile-and-a-half race. The first two turns I saved all the ground. When he saw the daylight turning for home, he took off."

The Ken McPeek-trained War Dancer collared a tiring Tattenham in midstretch and looked en route to a clear victory. Still grinding his way up on the far outside, Unitarian exploded with a late burst to score his fourth win in 15 starts in a final time of 2:32.60.

War Dancer held for second with Temeraine another 11/4 lengths back in third.

"We'll try and keep him stretched out to these distances," Pletcher said of Unitarian. "That's definitely where he's found himself."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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