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HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

How high should we be on Union Rags?

Watching yesterday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes was a pure joy. Union Rags looked every bit the way an early Kentucky Derby favorite is supposed to look. After recent years, where our top three-year-olds disappointed on the track, fell off the trail due to health reasons, or were victims of tough trips, it was a pleasure to see the big horse power home in effortless fashion to win his first sophomore test. Not surprisingly the glowing way the performance was talked about after the race was off the charts.
 
 
 
 
People are already calling him a freak, a sure thing for the Derby, the colt that at long last will end the torturous Triple Crown drought, and something just short of the next coming. Don’t get me wrong, I was impressed yesterday, and I love to see this kind of enthusiasm in our sport, but I wonder in this “what have you done for me in the last five minutes” world we now live in, if expectations are being raised way too high, way too early.
 
Now for the voice of reason … As the horse I’ve called the best one of the crop, Union Rags only did yesterday exactly what he was supposed to do. No more, no less. 
 
When Algorithms was scratched before the race, it became apparent that there would only be one big threat to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth. Clearly, Discreet Dancer did not live up to that billing, and gives every impression of a horse who will struggle going farther than a mile against good horses. Therefore, when Union Rags strolled down the Gulfstream Park stretch, he really wasn’t facing any adversity at all, and no matter how good we think he is, or may become, adversity is something he will need to face along the rigorous trail of the Triple Crown. And for anyone that doubted the son of Dixie Union’s ability to excel at classic distances, 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream does little to disprove those fears.
 
Truth be told, I was as impressed with El Padrino's win as I was with what Union Rags did in the Fountain of Youth. In the Risen Star, El Padrino gave further credence to my belief that he is a horse that will handle the ten furlongs of the Derby with little trouble, and also that he can look a good horse in the eye, and come out on top. These are most valuable commodities for any horse that has visions of Triple Crown grandeur.
 
Listen, I like Union Rags a lot, and I always have, but let’s temper down the fanatical enthusiasm a few notches here. I thought Union Rags was great yesterday, especially his push button second gear and his focus in the stretch, but let's be real … It’s a long way to go to wear the roses, and yesterday was only a solid first step. 
 

 

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Older Comments about How high should we be on Union Rags? ...

i have a question. does anyine think exothermic will be entered in any of the coming up stakes races like the arkansas or illinois derby?
likin sparks, which filly are you referring to? On Fire Baby? Disposablepleasure? My Miss Aurelia?
All weekend long the horses felt the tension in the air in the ring at Gulfstream. It was at Calder and Gulfstream where Barbaro's legacy began. Union Rags looked like a monster; it was a thrilling race. And I couldn't be happier for his ower, Mrs. Phyllis Wyeth, and his trainer, Michael Matz.
Still think we are going to be in for a surprise when SHE wins the derby.
I say don't give up on Hansen Union rags you are great but I love the grey ghost!!!!!!
When he wins the Derby I will praise him. Until then I'll be quiet.
How high? Very high!!
I have loved this colt since his maiden, and respected Mike Matz for more years than I'll admit to. He is a true horseman. If he says the horse can stay, can stay, can stay...
Absolutely, AmbitiousD ... we've become somewhat starved for a crackerjack juvenile coming back and doing "what they are supposed to do" at three, thus when it happens, hyperbole follows.
I'm glad to see some people are thinking with common sense instead of the typical hyperbole in this game that drives me nuts. Yes, the horse looked very good. So have many others before him that did not win the Derby. Long way to go folks...
Brian, I agree with all of your statements. UR did exactly what he was supposed to do. However, I'll also ask this question: When was the last time a 3yr old on the derby trail did what he/she was supposed to? I think that causes more excitement than anything else.
  • jetrider331 · good point, this year is already shaping up much better than last year because of that. And that goes for all age/sex groups not just 3yos · 883 days ago
People who study pedigree might like Union Rags more at a distance of ground than a mile and one sixteenth. Union Rags probably does not have significant distance limitations.
I'm trying to keep my opinion of Union Rags in perspective, personally. Yes, he looked good, but he did not face top level competition. In fact, he likely will not face any of his biggest threats until the Big Day. It is what it is. But AmbitiousD poses a good question: When WAS the last time a 3yr old on the Derby trail did what he/she was supposed to? My answer would be Big Brown despite his short record. Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown all did what they were supposed to on the TC trail and won.
Was abosultely devasted when Algorithms scratched, was so looking forward to that showdown. Without him there I think UR did just as you said, he did was he was supposed to do, no more, no less
Of course it's not yet time for a coronation; we need only look back to Eskendraya (and all the other recent pre-Derby favorites who got hurt just before the race) for proof of that. I think many - including me - believe, or at least hope, that the difference this time is Matz, who professes not to be squeezing the lemon dry on this one, just as he did not with Barbaro, and that there is plenty of room for improvement from him. Clearly if he moves forward off that effort, and stays healthy, he'll be a formidable force at CD, and possibly through the Triple Crown races. When I see a horse trained by Pletcher, Baffert, Dutrow, etc. I know they are due to run out of luck soon. When I see a horse trained by Matz, I think the horse could keep going for the foreseeable future.
What happens now doesn't mean all that much. It's no different than the NFL, you want to be the hot horse at the end. These races might earn you money to the starting gate but the Classic distances turn contenders to also rans.
Finally, somebody puts things in perspective. I was beginning to think I was the only one that saw things this way. Sometimes your eyes can be deceived, and taking nothing away from Union Rags, who was impressive, but people seem to be blowing it way out of proportion. I think you're right, it's more about having been let down lately with two-year olds coming back in there three-year old years.
Union Rags has separated from the rest of the pack with that impressive win off the Breeders' Cup layoff.
Respect your opinions Brian. The Derby road is tough, sometimes treacherous. Now to the first Saturday in May an eternity for horse(s), trainer(s), owner(s). Union Rags if he can stay healthy may be a super star. And with Dixie Union on the topside will have his doubters. I believe he's the real deal if he can stay healthy. As a bettor though, I'll always wait til I see the field and post positions before putting down the big bucks.
Can't help but hope, the Derby is a closer's race. You get a good trip and close well, you win. If you don't, no win. It's hard for anything BUT a closer to win the Derby. The Preakness is a speed horse's race, if you control the pace you control the race. The Belmont all you need is stamina. We won't know if UR can hold off EP at 10f, 9.5f or 12f until they hit the wire.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing since birth. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 
  
As Managing Editor of Horse Racing Nation, Brian authors a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and adds his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Brian also serves on the the Board of Directors of ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption and is a Vox Populi committee member. 
  
A graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives in Suburban Chicago with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra, where he is a professional golf instructor when he is not following the horses.