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Breeders Cup 2015
Kentucky Derby 2017

HRN Original Blog:
55,000 Furlongs to the Finish

Just who is Union Rags?

My first full season of following horse racing was 2011, and it was not easy for me to understand how end of year honors were awarded.  Sure, Havre de Grace made sense.  Hansen…maybe.  But the 3yr old male division struck me as nothing less than unusual.  Now I have my personal opinion on the matter, but that is something for a much different discussion.


I look at the first half of 2012 and I am trying to draw parallels to what I feel we can agree was a “weak” sophomore class last year.  It’s a tough thing to do.  2012 has shown several top class colts that have easily put themselves in contention for end of year honors.  There is no doubt in my mind that I'll Have Another  is the superstar 3 year old and if today were December 31st, he would clearly be the 3-year-old champ and probably horse of the year.  Similar to last year, our early year superstar is out with injury, and the door is open for another to rise to the spotlight.  I find myself asking what it would take for this to happen.


I’m of the opinion that end of year honors should go to a horse that has shown the ability to compete and succeed at the top level of competition for an entire season.  I also find it strange that the 3-year-old male division is the only one in the country where the first half of the season is weighted heavier than the second half.  But, should it be?  Sure, there are a large number of G1’s in rapid succession, but they are restricted to 3 year olds.  Yet we put so much emphasis on 3 year old horses facing their elders in the second half of the year to prove their true worth.   It seems those races do not carry as much weight in end of year honors.


I look at a horse like Union Rags and wonder.  He won the Fountain of Youth and the Belmont Stakes.  What would it take for him to overtake I’ll Have Another?  If he wins the upcoming Haskell and Travers, both G1’s, he will have won just as many as the afore mentioned I’ll Have Another.  Still, those are all age-restricted races.  Assuming he stays healthy, will he go the Jockey Club Gold Cup/Breeder’s Cup Classic route?  It might be a bit far fetched to think he could win them all, but what if he did…  I would think 3 year old of the year isn’t the only trophy Micheal Matz and Mrs Wyeth will be holding next January. 


Can he do it?  I may be in the minority to think that we have yet to see the best of Union Rags.  Here are my reasons why.


1. Immaturity.  In the Fountain of Youth, he was just an overgrown 2 year old.  The Florida Derby he had a bad trip.  The Kentucky Derby he had a bad trip.  The Belmont Stakes he had a good trip and won.  This horse has grown up physically and now mentally.  I think he now knows how to win.


2. Beyer Speed Figures. Many modern handicappers will say he hasn’t run a race with a Beyer Speed Figure that would come close to I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, or even the top 10 older handicap division horses.  I shrug my shoulders and say, “so what?”  His Fountain of Youth, he was still young, but dominated the field.  His Florida Derby, he was boxed in, and the winner didn’t score a fast Beyer.  His Kentucky Derby, he was again stuck in traffic, but even the winner only scored a 102, and Rags was closing only 7 ½ lengths behind.  I toss the Belmont for two reasons.  1, he wasn’t setting the pace, and aside from the opening quarter, it was slow.  2, it was 12 furlongs.  The modern US thoroughbred struggles with the distance, and given how fast Belmont has played this year even if it was a second faster, I doubt he would have scored more than a 101 or 102 Beyer.


3. Running Style.  I look at his running style and the races he has run this year, and it looks like a situation where a lion is waiting to pounce.  Give this horse clean air for 9-10 furlongs, it doesn’t matter who is in front.  His distance gobbling stride, and his recent return to the winner’s circle gives this horse an upside that is difficult to find anywhere else. Once this locomotive gets moving, the easiest way to beat him is to slow him down.  Speed checks are his demise, and it is something Johnny V knows too.  He doesn’t have a spectacular turn of foot, but he just doesn’t go away.  He wears down opponents and has the competitive spirit to boot.


4.  The Unknown.  All the other horses out there have shown their best stuff, and we know what they’re capable of.  We only question if their best will show up on a given day.  Union Rags is dangerous.  I say that because at his distance and his way, no one yet knows just how good this horse really is.


The Haskell will be a big test, and if he can find the winner’s circle again, there’s still a lot of empty seats on the Union Rags’ bandwagon.



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Older Comments about Just who is Union Rags?...

Many three year olds get MUCH MUCH better over the SUmmer, Chief's Crown and Holy Bull to name two out of many.
I do believe we have not yet seen the best of UR'S ..I am holding on to his star and am not letting go.
Very good article. Impressive with your knowledge, and deductive reasoning. I will go to the contrary, though. I mentioned to icy that UR reminds me of a horse from about 10 years ago, named Dollar Bill. When you say "boxed in" and "bad trip" as reasoning, I'm thinking that he is now going a longer distance than he has ever gone. In both cases, even though problems are encountered, he has more time(or the jockey) to compensate for the temporary setback. I base a lot of my opinions on times, and track variations. The time that he recorded in the Belmont(although ran at the rare distance of 12 furlongs), was one of the slowest on record, in recent years. If he does become the horse that you are hoping for, I will tip my hat to your meteoric rise to "astute handicapper". It won't be the first time that I missed out on a horse's maturity. That's why my chalkboard has so many erasings(ha!!!). Anyhow, look forward to more insights from you. Thanks.
Hard to believe you've only been watching a season and a half. Nice article that was on the money. Personally I think UR is a good horse but I can't pin him down as to where he belongs in the mix. Usually I stay away from what I call "trouble horses" but this colt has legitimate reasons and I'm hoping to see a very good horse the second half of the season.
The Haskell is the test of the champions :3
  • RunYourRace101 · The last race Union did at 1 1/8 he got 3rd. That was the Florida. The time for the winner (Take Charge Indy) got 1.48 BodeMeister then ran a race and got the same time. You notice Union in traffic that one day. When they were in the stretch he raced up to 3rd place. It looked like he was running faster than most of the other horses. Do you think he can beat Bodemeister? I also noticed Dullahan times. He ran at 1 1/8 twice and both times beat Bode and Union his first time running he got 2nd at 1.46 his 2nd he got 1.47. Then you have Gemologist who was undefeted before the Derby, he got 1.50. UnstoppableU has not run 1 1/8. The last is Le Bernardin he got 10th place at his last 1 1/8 still running strong. · 1753 days ago
I know that I have a reserved seat on the Union Rags bandwagon.
  • AmbitiousD · Matt, did you ever leave? I feel we are mixing cocktails and waiting for more people to share them with :) · 1754 days ago
i cant wait to see the upcoming races that rags is gonna in, this is gonna be entertaing to watch, thats for sure
he good, but i just don't envisions rags winning the big enchilada, the bc classic in november.
not too often I would agree but ON THIS COLT, Leparoux was terrible.
The jockey switch -IMO had a lot to do with this horse improving.
Agreed, this colt has something to prove!
Given that his animal has run just ONE race where traffic did not affect the outcome, yes we may have not seen close to the best from him AND he is still matruing.
Great article! I totally agree. We haven't seen the best from Rags yet.

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Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 


Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 


I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   


The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings. 

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