The horse that brings the most money at a sale will usually be the one that gets the most headlines immediately after the fact, but some of horse racing's greatest competitors are ones that went home with the person trying to sell them. Unbridled's Song did both, and altered the direction of North American racing and breeding in the process.
Known today as a Breeders' Cup winner and bedrock of the Taylor Made Stallions operation, Unbridled's Song was simply a high-upside pinhook prospect when he was cataloged for the 1995 Barretts March Select Sale of 2-Year-Olds In Training.
He was sent to the auction by computer software entrepreneur Ernie Paragallo, who purchased the son of Unbridled as a yearling for $200,000. He was picked out by bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, prepared in Florida for the Barretts sale by Robert Scanlon, and he was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency.
Unbridled's Song came into a marketplace salivating for a buzz horse. That year's Barretts sale ended up posting more horses sold for six figures than any 2-year-old sale to precede it, lighting the spark for what would be a boom period for the juvenile market through the rest of the 1990s.
The colt held up his end of the bargain, breezing an eighth of a mile in :10 1/5 seconds at Fairplex Park in Pomona, Calif. John Sparkman wrote in Thoroughbred Times that Unbridled's Song “worked with an exceptionally low, smooth action that made a lasting impression on viewers.”
A good indicator of serious buyer interest is how many times a prospect is examined by the veterinarians of shoppers, and Chace told BloodHorse that vets for five different buyers took radiographs of Unbridled's Song prior to the sale, in addition to others doing endoscopic exams and other tests.
When the colt entered the sale ring, Japanese buyer Hiroshi Fujita locked horns with Sidney and Jenny Craig, who Sparkman reported were bidding by phone through agent Ted Aroney. Bidding reached then-impossible heights before Fujita got the hammer to fall at $1.4 million. At the time, it was the most money ever paid for a juvenile in training at auction.
Though Fujita was based in Japan, he told BloodHorse the colt would likely remain in California to run under trainer Hector Palma.
Any reason to celebrate came to a halt when Fujita raised questions about the colt after his own post-sale radiographs revealed a small chip in his left-front ankle. Fujita was not one of the five potential buyers who x-rayed Unbridled's Song prior to the sale. William Nack wrote in Sports Illustrated that Fujita offered to renegotiate the price, but Paragallo refused and begrudgingly offered to buy the colt back.
“It wasn't even a chip,” Paragallo told the Louisville CourierJournal. “It was a small, microscopic flake. It couldn't have been operated on. When you blister [the ankle], it just throws it out. Everybody knew about it beforehand; this horse was vetted 31 times at the sale.”
Because the buyback was technically initiated by the seller and not by a violation of the rules of sale, the record price stood, even if Fujita's complaints were viewed with a skeptical eye by more than just Paragallo.
“At least one veterinarian still passed the horse as acceptable post-sale, but it was a case of a buyer who did not expect to find any questions,” Jerry McMahon, then president and general manager of Barretts, told Thoroughbred Times. “Mr. Paragallo took the high road immediately and said he'd be happy to race the horse. This is one of the things that plague our industry. Hopefully he'll show us the kind of horse he is on the racetrack.”
Paragallo was confident he'd do just that.
“The day we took the horse back, [the media] asked us, 'What are you going to do with him now?' I said, “Win the Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown,” he told the Courier-Journal.
History would prove Fujita to be a repeat rejecter of top-priced horses. A year after he sent Unbridled's Song back to Paragallo, Fujita landed a $500,000 Storm Cat colt at the Barretts sale who was returned to consignors Jerry Bailey and Kenneth Ellenberg after a small shadow was discovered on a stifle during a post-sale radiograph.
The matter was put before an arbitration board of three Barretts-approved veterinarians, who ruled unanimously in Fujita's favor. The colt, later named Storm of Angels, never raced.
By then, Unbridled's Song had already checked off the first part of Paragallo's premonition, winning the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He looked primed to fulfill the second part, after wins in the G1 Florida Derby and G2 Wood Memorial, but his progress was hampered by a quarter crack that forced him to run with a bar shoe in the 1996 Kentucky Derby. He finished fifth and skipped the rest of the Triple Crown.
Had Unbridled's Song remained with Fujita and raced on the west coast, his on-track career could have varied wildly from what actually unfolded, and his future at stud could have gone in just as many directions, or potentially no direction at all. Instead, Paragallo went back to the operation that consigned the colt as a 2-year-old when it came time for Unbridled's Song to retire.
“I felt bad for Taylor Made because they didn't make their commission on the sale,” Paragallo told the Daily Racing Form. “So when they asked about standing the horse at their farm, I agreed.”
Unbridled's Song became a titan of the racetrack and sale ring at stud until his death in 2013, siring 1,700 foals, four Eclipse Award winners, and six Breeders' Cup winners. He was posthumously North America's leading sire by progeny earnings in 2017, and has become a top broodmare sire.
Taylor Made Stallions, propelled by the success of its initial offering at stud, has gone on to stand the likes of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome and Northern Afleet, the sire of dual classic winner Afleet Alex, at its Nicholasville, Ky., farm.
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