When Union Rags attempts to run his record to
4-for-4 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5, it will be the
result of Phyllis Wyeth’s recent efforts to preserve her family’s
thoroughbred racing legacy.
The colt will carry the colors of Wyeth’s Chadds Ford Stable in
the Breeders’ Cup, but only because Wyeth had the foresight to buy the
colt back at auction earlier this year after selling him as a yearling.
Wyeth, the wife of acclaimed painter Jamie Wyeth, is the daughter of Richard
P. Mills and Alice du Pont Mills, who campaigned horses such as Devil’s
Bag and Gone West under their Hickory Tree Stables banner prior to their
respective deaths in 1987 and 2002.
One of the less distinguished horses who raced for Hickory Tree Stables
was a daughter of Gone West named Tempo. She made three starts from 1995-97,
winning the first two and finishing second in her final start, an Aqueduct Racetrack
allowance race won by Quiet Dance, who later produced 2005 Horse of the Year
“Tempo wasn’t that sound of a horse, but she had shown a
lot of ability,” said Russell Jones, a retired bloodstock agent who
remains close friends with Phyllis Wyeth.
Phyllis retained Tempo as a broodmare following Alice’s death, with the mare’s
first five foals all going on to become winners. The best of the group was
Geefour, a Dixie Union gelding who won four races, placed in a stakes at Philadelphia Park, and earned $159,092.
“Geefour also had physical issues that stopped him from being a
good horse,” said Jones.
Encouraged by the potential Tempo and Geefour had shown, Wyeth bred the
mare back to Dixie Union in 2008, and the resulting foal was a bay colt later
named Union Rags. He would be Tempo’s final foal prior to her retirement
from broodmare duty.
Wyeth decided to sell Union Rags as a yearling, with the colt being
purchased by IEAH Stables for $145,000 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga
Selected Yearlings sale.
Wyeth, however, developed a case of seller’s remorse and sent
Jones to Fasig-Tipton’s sale at Palm Meadows in February with
instructions to visually inspect Union Rags, now a 2-year-old, and to bid on
the colt if he was pleased with what he saw.
“I told her what the horse had grown into, and she wanted me to
buy him back,” said Jones. “I told her he was going to cost a lot
more than what she had sold him for, but she still wanted to have a crack at
him. We were hoping to buy him for $350,000 to $400,000, and fortunately he
ended up in that range.”
Jones secured the colt for $390,000, and Union Rags has already more
than recouped his purchase price, having earned $498,800 to date, including a
$200,000 bonus for becoming the first graduate of the 2010 Fasig-Tipton
Saratoga sale to capture a graded stakes at Saratoga Race Course when he won
the Grade 2 Three Chimneys Saratoga Special by 7 ¼ lengths in August. His other
victories are a 1 ¾-length debut score at Delaware
Park in July and a 5 ¼-length romp in
the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont
Park earlier this month.
Union Rags’ 2-year-old success has been a function of the
colt’s physical ability as well as his intelligence and maturity, Jones
“He’s an attractive-looking horse and is balanced, with
good legs and limbs,” said Jones. “He looks like a sound horse, and
he has an exceptionally good mind and can handle himself without using a lot of
In addition to buying back Union Rags from a 2-year-old sale, Wyeth has
been working to preserve the thoroughbred families her parents had developed.
In April, she claimed Miss Pauline, a 6-year-old half-sister to Union Rags who
had won six races and earned $207,867, for $7,500 at Parx Racing. As a
yearling, Miss Pauline had been sold at auction for $13,000 by Jones’
Walnut Green bloodstock agency on behalf of Wyeth. She’s now part of
Wyeth’s six-horse broodmare band.
“Tempo is now retired, and [Wyeth] wanted to have a younger
member of the family,” said Jones. “She had sold Miss Pauline as a
yearling, so she claimed her back and now she’s in foal to Jump
Jones said a win by Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
would not only conclude a perfect 2-year-old season and make him the favorite
for the Eclipse Award for Champion 2-Year-Old Male, but would also be a fitting
tribute to Richard P. Mills and Alice du Pont Mills.
“[Wyeth] has been committed in a small way to stay in racing and
keep the family’s families in play,” said Jones. “She’s
trying to continue what her parents started. Let’s just keep our luck
going and hope the racing gods continue to smile on us.”