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.
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’