(By Avalyn Hunter)
Unbridled's Song has been one of those horses that people seem to love or hate.
On the track he was something of an enigma, flashing enormous talent yet never completely delivering on his potential. Although he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), outgaming Hennessy in an excellent performance for both colts, his 3-year-old season has to be characterized as a disappointment despite wins in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. II). Installed as the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) favorite off those two races, Unbridled ran a race that seemed a metaphor for his overall career; after making a bold, sweeping move coming off the backstretch to take the lead, he flattened out and finished a disappointing fifth. Foot trouble may well have been an issue (he ran with two bar shoes in the Derby); in any event, Unbridled's Song never recaptured the form he had shown earlier. His only stakes win following the Derby was in the 1997 Olympic Handicap at Gulfstream Park, his only start at 4 before an injury suffered in training sent him to the breeding shed.
Unbridled's Song's stud career has been strangely reminiscent of his racing career. While he reached the milestone of 100 worldwide stakes winners when his son Graydar won the Donn Handicap (gr. I) last February, the highest sire ranking he ever reached was 10th on the general sire list in 2008, and his 90 Northern Hemisphere stakes winners from 1,211 Northern Hemisphere foals 3 years old and older represent 7.4% of these foals--a good record in the modern era, but not the equal of Storm Cat or A.P. Indy, much less Northern Dancer or Mr. Prospector. While there is no question that his offspring possess speed, he also has been criticized for passing along unsoundness, and his tally of 51% winners among his foals aged 3 and up is well below the 60% benchmark once expected of a top American sire and is also below the corresponding percentage for most of the stallions among the current top 20 (Unbridled's Song is currently 13th on the general sire list).
As a sire of sires, Unbridled's Song has yet to be represented by a clear successor, though he has a number of talented representatives just getting started on their stud careers. These include the brilliant sprinter Zensational, who is among the early leaders in this year's freshman sire race; the regally bred First Defence (from the immediate family of Chester House and Empire Maker), whose daughter Close Hatches won the 2013 Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I); and 2008 champion juvenile male Midshipman, whose first foals will come to the races next year. Graydar, of course, is still in training, as is this year's Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner Will Take Charge. Another hope to continue the male line is multiple grade I winner Dullahan, a grandson of Unbridled's Song through multiple grade II winner Even the Score.
Daughters of Unbridled's Song also may become a force in keeping his name alive in pedigrees. While to date they have produced only 57 stakes winners--47 in the Northern Hemisphere, or 5.0% of the 942 foals age 3 and older so bred--those stakes winners include millionaire Better Than Ever, a multiple highweight in Singapore, and 2012 Vosburgh Invitational Stakes (gr. I) winner The Lumber Guy. Given that many of Unbridled's Song's best racing daughters are still early in their production careers, his 16th-place finish on last year' broodmare sire list is encouraging as a sign of things to come. Nonetheless, it will probably take decades for the true position of Unbridled's Song in the history of the Thoroughbred to be determined, whether as a lasting influence or just another name occasionally encountered.