by Jarrod Horak
has not improved since turning three. He always finds trouble. He is
not bred to run a mile and a half. He is overrated. Are any of these
statements true? Are all of them true? I have been reading similar
comments about Union Rags on HorseRacingNation.com and it is time to
find out if he is the real McCoy or a paper tiger.
Did Union Rags peak as a juvenile?
I agree that Union Rags has not moved forward from a speed figure
standpoint but circumstances have prevented him from running fast.
It is difficult to earn a high speed rating in races without much pace. Just ask I’ll Have Another. He did not earn flashy numbers in the Robert Lewis Stakes and SA Derby because those two races had below par early fractions.
Union Rags cruised in the paceless Fountain of Youth and finished a
troubled 3rd behind wire job winner Take Charge Indy in the similarly
slow-paced Florida Derby. He was only beaten a bit more than a length in
his better than looked final Derby prep and appeared to be sitting on
the race of his life on the first Saturday in May.
Unfortunately, his Kentucky Derby hopes were dashed before they
started. He was shuffled back to 19th early and ended up a respectable
7th after getting eliminated at the break. So long, Julien Leparoux!
Is Union Rags trouble-prone?
Union Rags is not trouble-prone but jockey Julien Leparoux sure found
plenty of it in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. His situation
reminds me of Lookin At Lucky in 2010.
Jockey Garrett Gomez could do nothing right aboard Lookin At Lucky in
the SA Derby and Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert reached out to Martin
Garcia and Lookin At Lucky won the Preakness, Haskell, and Indiana
Union Rags exits back-to-back miserable trips and the rider switch to John Velazquez
comes at the perfect time. Johnny V knows Belmont Park like the back of
his hand and won the 2007 Belmont Stakes aboard Rags To Riches.
Does Union Rags have the breeding to handle twelve furlongs?
His late sire Dixie Union won the G1 Haskell in
2000, defeating Captain Steve and Milwaukee Brew. He sired 39 stakes
winners from his first eight crops. Dixie Union’s sire was Dixieland Band
(by Northern Dancer), a Maryland-bred horse I remember when I first
started following racing in the early 1980's. Dixieland Band ran in the
1983 Belmont Stakes and finished 14th. Dixie Union’s offspring are
usually effective up to a mile and an eighth.
His dam Tempo raced three times, winning her first
two starts at six furlongs and finishing 2nd at a flat mile in her
career finale for trainer Bill Mott. Tempo’s sire Gone West (by
Mr. Prospector) was on the Triple Crown trail in 1987, making waves in
the Hutcheson (2nd), Fountain of Youth (3rd), Gotham (1st), Wood
Memorial (2nd), Withers (1st), and Peter Pan (2nd), before finishing 6th
in the Belmont Stakes. The late Gone West sired his 100th stakes winner
earlier this year.
If Union Rags is going to find added stamina, it will most likely come from Tempo’s mother Terpsichorist
(by Nijinsky II). Virginia-bred Terpsichorist was a long distance turf
specialist in the late 1970's, winning races like New York’s Long Island
and Sheepshead Bay Handicaps.
Although his pedigree is less than ideal for twelve furlongs, Union
Rags has the right running style and proper energy distribution to
handle the Test of Champions. He earned strong Late Pace Ratings in the
Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and quality conditioner Michael Matz
should have him primed for his best effort at Belmont Park on June 9.
Is Union Rags the best 3yo in the country?
Union Rags has been my top ranked Triple Crown trail colt since last
November and I still think he is the most talented sophomore in the
land. I thought he had the raw talent to make a run at the Triple Crown
but it was not meant to be.
His best career race was a facile victory at Belmont Park in last
year’s G1 Champagne Stakes and he could play the Triple Crown spoiler if
he handles the trip and gets to stretch his legs around the sweeping
turns. I predict a preferred outside stalk and pounce trip under new
pilot Johnny V…may the best horse win!