Freak is a term thrown around way to often in the sport of horse racing…..after Sunday’s Fountain of Youth, any doubts about a certain Michael Matz trainee and his “freak” status, should have been erased. Union Rags, only a head away from an unbeaten season, a champion season, made his return to the races and he did it with a vengeance.
The Fountain of Youth was supposed to provide the world of racing with one of the most highly anticipated Kentucky Derby preps of the season. Algorithms, winner of the Holy Bull and top dog in Florida, and Discreet Dancer a brilliantly fast son of Discreet Cat were poised to take advantage of a “rusty” Union Rags. Even after the scratch of Algorithms, who popped a splint the day of the race, the hype surrounding the race was still there.
Discreet Dancer was supposed to have had a big edge over Union Rags, racing twice in the last couple of months. His two races, were both over Gulfstream’s main track, so all in all, he should have been a sharper horse, more prepared to deliver his best and had experience over the track all on his side. Discreet Dancer is a track record holder, and as they turned for home Union Rags simply made a mockery of him. The monstrous colt unleashed a late run that simply devastated the field, and within a few short strides he was on the lead and drawing away. He won by four lengths, while jockey Julien Leparoux, had him wrapped up during the final sixteenth of the race.
One of the key criticisms of Union Rags was his tendency to weave back and forth down the stretch. Most would argue it was that bad habit that cost him the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, last year. There was no such weaving on Sunday, as Union Rags made the lead and ran straight as an arrow, looking the definition of professional through the lane.
There was not one thing about this race that was not impressive. Matz, admitted to not having the colt fully cranked and ready to run his best. It had been four months since his last start, he was coming back against more race ready horses at a tricky distance of a mile and a sixteenth, and still he dominated them. He showed an ability that is rarely seen in young horses when Leparoux asked him for speed from the gate, to make a good position, then relaxing when Leparoux asked him to switch off and relax. That also, yet again demonstrated his versatility and tactical speed. Not many horses can win from on the lead, close to the pace, mid pack, and closing….Union Rags can. He also showed that unlike many horses his size that he can accelerate on a dime. That move on the turn was breathtaking; he just simply inhaled them in a matter of three strides. Lastly, this horse ran his final two and a half furlongs in 30 and 1/5 seconds and his final sixteenth in 6.4 seconds, while never being touched with the whip, and then being wrapped up on.
I’m not one to get excited; I like logic, which is why when many horses are called “freaks” I would tend to say differently. In this instance, logic shows that Union Rags is simply a freak. There is no other word, no other adjective that can accurately describe him. Union Rags is back, and ready to take us on the ride of our lives.