Bloodhorse: United Wins By a Nose in Charles Whittingham Thriller

Reprinted from BloodHorse

The Giant’s Causeway gelding notched his second graded win of the year.

On a May 23 afternoon when Wildman Jack set the stage by taking the $101,000 Daytona Stakes (G3T) by a nose at Santa Anita Park, United won the $200,500 Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2T) in a finish that was just as close.

The race was so tight that a slow-motion replay of the final strides made it difficult to determine whether United or eastern invader Rockemperor had come out on top in a head-bobbing photo, and placing judges took a couple of minutes to determine the winner.

The drama continued. A lengthy inquiry ensued, though it didn’t involve the winner. Ultimately, Rockemperor was disqualified from second and placed third for interference with Originaire down the stretch. Originaire, third past the post, was bumped by Rockemperor.

“I thought I was second,” said winning jockey Flavien Prat, who won three races on the day. “On my way back, I looked at the tote board and there was an inquiry. … I said, ‘What? I wasn’t involved in that.’ And (then) I realized I won. That was pretty cool.

“He was ready today, but this is not the type of race that he likes. He’s better when he has a few horses in front of him and a stronger pace. … He’s getting better and better with each race—I think he’s still improving every race. He’s very cool to be around. He always gives a lot.”

The Whittingham, United’s second graded victory, came in difficult fashion down the stretch, though Prat gave his mount a trouble-free journey. He had him well spotted in second for the first six furlongs of the 1 1/4-mile turf race, positioned just off longshot frontrunner Synthesis, who set uncontested splits of :24.78, :48.88, and 1:12.74.

Then it was United’s time to move. He took command with a mile in 1:36.97, and a final quarter-mile in :23.37 proved just enough to repel his challengers. He stopped the clock in 2:00.34 and paid $4.40 as the second choice behind Rockemperor, who was slightly favored at even money.

The victory gave trainer Richard Mandella his first win in the race since it was named after the legendary trainer, who died in 1999. Mandella won the race with Sandpit in 1996 when it was called the Hollywood Turf Handicap.

“With everything we’ve been through, this puts the icing on top of the cake as far as getting back to racing here at Santa Anita,” Mandella said. “Ever since the race was renamed for Charlie, I’ve wanted to win it. He was such a special man, and he meant so much to our game. I’ve had a few seconds, but to win today really means a lot.”

Rockemperor, who rallied from fifth, threatened in the stretch under Irad Ortiz Jr., though his momentum may have subsided at times when drifting inward and bumping longshot Originaire. The latter battled on between horses to finish a half-length behind the top pair.

Desert Stone was fourth, beaten less than a length, and was followed by Multiplier and Synthesis in the field of six.

United, a 5-year-old gelding by Giant’s Causeway, won the San Marcos Stakes (G2T) Feb. 1 at Santa Anita for owner LNJ Foxwoods. Last year, his best stakes efforts resulted in close losses, such as when second—beaten a head—by eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) at Santa Anita.

Bred in Kentucky by Rosemont Farm, United is the second graded stakes winner out of the Pulling Punches mare Indy Punch. The other, Harlan Punch (by Harlan’s Holiday), won the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) in 2018. United is his dam’s third stakes winner. United was purchased for $300,000 by Solis/Litt from the consignment of Four Star Sales to The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s select yearling sale. He has a 5-3-1 record from 13 starts and $1,133,549 in earnings.