LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- They'll not look back on the rivalry between Unbridled and Summer Squall and judge it among racing's greatest. It has not been one of nail-biting finishes or gut-wrenching stretch battles.
If anything, it has been more of an enduring relationship than a rivalry, an off-and-on affair of five races in 18 months that will end tomorrow when the two meet for the sixth and final time as they race in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Summer Squall will retire to stud after the race; Unbridled probably will.
"It has been a friendly rivalry," said Cot Campbell, who constructed the 28-member syndicate that owns Summer Squall. "Carl [Unbridled trainer Carl Nafzger] kids us about our horse, and we kid him about his."
The relationship between the two horses, if not one of fireworks, has been an unusual one. They couldn't be more different. Summer Squall has his 28 owners; Unbridled has 92-year-old Frances Genter. Summer Squall was foaled in Kentucky, Unbridled in Florida. Summer Squall is a pint-size terror; Unbridled is a big brute with an overhanging lip for that extra touch of menace.
Of the two, Unbridled will be the horse most remembered.
He won the Kentucky Derby here on this track in 1990. Summer Squall was second that May day. Yet, it is Summer Squall who will come out ahead in the rivalry, no matter what the outcome tomorrow. He has finished ahead of Unbridled in each of their four other encounters.
"I'll have to win this one so I can always say, 'He won the little ones, and I won the big ones,' " Nafzger said.
After Unbridled won the Derby, Summer Squall returned the favor against him in the Preakness. It was the first time that the first two finishers in the Derby flip-flopped their finishing order in the Preakness.
It was another year before the two hooked up again. And in that race, the Pimlico Special, it was the only time that neither one of them managed to win when they were in the same race together. Summer Squall finished second to Farma Way. Unbridled bled and finished a distant sixth.
Their most recent encounter came a month ago in the Fayette Handicap at Keeneland. Summer Squall dusted Unbridled by three lengths.
None of the races has been particularly close.
They're the kind of horses who always win by daylight whenever they do win," said Summer Squall trainer Neil Howard.
The reason is that the two horses have contrasting styles. Summer Squall has what is called "tactical speed." It's a characteristic that allows him to set the pace or settle near the lead. He is small and maneuverable. Unbridled, on the other hand, is large and leggy. He's the classic stretch runner, a Silky Sullivan type who drops back among the early stragglers, then kicks in for a furious drive when the front-runners sputter. The disadvantage Unbridled has to Summer Squall is this: Unbridled needs a fiery pace ahead of him to make his bold stretch runs; Summer Squall, by laying close in wait, doesn't much mind whether the pace is fast or slow.
"Neil's horse is always in it," Nafzger said. "Our horse is the kind of horse who builds momentum, then runs like a freight train."
Which brings us to tomorrow.
Churchill Downs was where Unbridled was made famous, and it's the last place where he was ever able to finish ahead of Summer Squall. He obviously likes this particular Kentucky soil.
But Summer Squall and jockey Pat Day learned a lesson from that race, Campbell said. In the '90 Derby, Unbridled came from nowhere to hook up with Summer Squall at the top of the stretch and blasted past to win by one of those "daylight" margins. Summer Squall was caught by surprise when Unbridled charged alongside him and didn't have time to recover.
"We, of course, think in the Derby Unbridled sort of blindsided us and startled us," Campbell said. "That horse came flying, and we couldn't fight back.
"In the Fayette, Pat turned for home with about a two-length lead on Unbridled and saw him coming. But this time, he didn't wait for him, which is what Pat would normally do. You got to be rolling yourself against Unbridled to bide him off. And that's what Pat was able to do for us in the Fayette."