Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Derby Hopeful: Union Rags

In 2011, I posted “Juvenile Spotlights” about two-year-olds I had followed since early on in their careers. Now that it’s 2012, everyone’s focus is on the Kentucky Derby. Some horses from past Juvenile Spotlights will be featured, as well as additional horses on the Derby trail.
Union Rags, the early Kentucky Derby (GI) favorite, was one of the most impressive juveniles of 2011. After winning his first three starts by a combined 14 ¼ lengths, Union Rags fell a head short to the fleet Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Yet as the sun set on 2011, many felt that Union Rags was the best two-year-old of 2011.
Union Rags
Photo by Mary Cage
Most didn’t expect to see the early Kentucky Derby favorite in the seventh race at Delaware Park on July 12, 2011, let alone did they assume it would be Union Rags – one of seven first-time starters in the nine-horse field. Sent off at nearly 8-1, Phyllis Wyeth’s colt settled in seventh as the horses began their run down the backstretch in the five-furlong maiden special weight. Jockey Julian Pimentel asked the two-year-old to make his run around the far turn and Union Rags responded eagerly, making an impressive move as the juveniles grew closer to the homestretch. His powerful stride ate up ground as Pimentel urged the colt forward and with an imposing turn of foot, Union Rags swept past Jake N Elwood near the furlong pole to win by 1 ¾ lengths in a final time of 58.25. The final eighth of a mile was run in 12.14 seconds.
After his excellent debut, trainer Michael Matz – most famous in horse racing for training the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro – pointed Union Rags to the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special Stakes (GII) at the renowned Saratoga Race Course. Over a very sloppy track, Union Rags broke from the rail and raced alongside three other horses as the juveniles galloped along the backstretch. Ridden by Javier Castellano for the first time, the bay colt edged away with the favorite, Stat, as the two-year-olds entered the turn. The two ran neck and neck until the field reached the top of the stretch. Then Union Rags accelerated over the sealed track and drew away under Castellano despite drifting out badly in deep stretch. He crossed the wire 7 ¼ lengths ahead of the rest of the field, immediately appearing on plenty of watch lists, including mine.
To solidify his position as the leading two-year-old colt in the nation, Union Rags made his final start before the Breeders’ Cup in the esteemed Champagne Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park. As the juvenile colts galloped down the backstretch in the one-turn mile, Union Rags settled in mid-pack and was forced to take up slightly when he came in contact with Takes the Gold. He recovered quickly, quickening as the horses entered the final half-mile. Castellano guided the talented colt through traffic on the far turn, nearly taking the path along the rail until an opening appeared and the pair aimed for the lead on the outside. With his beautiful stride carrying him over fast track, Union Rags effortlessly opened up on the field and swept across the finish line with 5 ¼ lengths separating him and the others.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile seemed like his for the taking, but a brilliant gray colt that had dominated Turfway Park kept Union Rags from wearing the blanket of flowers in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle. Breaking from post ten in a thirteen-horse field, Union Rags broke smoothly and made his way to the middle of the pack. Due to his post position, the colt was forced to race very wide throughout the race. Castellano asked him for more speed as the two-year-old colts swept into the final turn and Union Rags responded, going widest of all. At the top of the stretch, it seemed as if he could catch the front-running Hansen, but he drifted out in the homestretch and finished a head behind Hansen before galloping out ahead of the winner.
Union Rags may have lost the race, but he left a lasting impression on followers of the sport. He clearly has plenty of learning left to do, but he has already showed incredible racing ability. In addition, he has a spectacular pedigree that hints he will only get better.
Union Rags is inbred 3 X 4 to Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector, two of the most influential sires of all-time. His sire is the two-time grade one-winning Dixie Union, who was sadly euthanized in 2010 at age thirteen due to a worsening neurologic problem. The son of the outstanding Dixieland Band also sired the grade one winners Dixie Chatter and Hot Dixie Chick. The sire traced back to many influential sires such as Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and Seattle Slew.

Union Rags
Photo: Terri Cage

Union Rags’ dam, Tempo, is by the incredible sire Gone West and out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Nijinksy mare Terpsichorist. Tempo is also the dam of the stakes-placed Geefour, Union Rags’ full brother. Tempo is a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes-placed Dancing Devlette and the multiple ungraded stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Marry Me Do.
In addition to his spectacular racing talent and pedigree, Union Rags is very athletically built. The bay colt has a very intelligent face, as well as a clean throatlatch and thin neck. He has a very strong shoulder and its angle allows him to be a very well-balanced individual. He has a strong topline, which is shorter in correlation to a longer underline, which in part allows him to be easily divided into even thirds. He is very structurally correct, possessing short, sturdy cannon bones and very straight legs and angular pasterns.
Union Rags brings to the table all that you want to see in a racehorse. There have already been comparisons to Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner that is the horse for which Matz is most famous for training. This is a brilliant colt and he is definitely the rightful early Kentucky Derby favorite.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the spotlight on Union Rags. I can't wait to see how he progresses!