Race of the Week 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Dueling Down The Stretch

The Freak is Back

Freak is a term thrown around way to often in the sport of horse racing…..after Sunday’s Fountain of Youth, any doubts about a certain Michael Matz trainee and his “freak” status, should have been erased. Union Rags, only a head away from an unbeaten season, a champion season, made his return to the races and he did it with a vengeance.
The Fountain of Youth was supposed to provide the world of racing with one of the most highly anticipated Kentucky Derby preps of the season. Algorithms, winner of the Holy Bull and top dog in Florida, and Discreet Dancer a brilliantly fast son of Discreet Cat were poised to take advantage of a “rusty” Union Rags. Even after the scratch of Algorithms, who popped a splint the day of the race, the hype surrounding the race was still there.
Discreet Dancer was supposed to have had a big edge over Union Rags, racing twice in the last couple of months. His two races, were both over Gulfstream’s main track, so all in all, he should have been a sharper horse, more prepared to deliver his best and had experience over the track all on his side. Discreet Dancer is a track record holder, and as they turned for home Union Rags simply made a mockery of him. The monstrous colt unleashed a late run that simply devastated the field, and within a few short strides he was on the lead and drawing away. He won by four lengths, while jockey Julien Leparoux, had him wrapped up during the final sixteenth of the race.
One of the key criticisms of Union Rags was his tendency to weave back and forth down the stretch. Most would argue it was that bad habit that cost him the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, last year. There was no such weaving on Sunday, as Union Rags made the lead and ran straight as an arrow, looking the definition of professional through the lane.
There was not one thing about this race that was not impressive. Matz, admitted to not having the colt fully cranked and ready to run his best. It had been four months since his last start, he was coming back against more race ready horses at a tricky distance of a mile and a sixteenth, and still he dominated them. He showed an ability that is rarely seen in young horses when Leparoux asked him for speed from the gate, to make a good position, then relaxing when Leparoux asked him to switch off and relax. That also, yet again demonstrated his versatility and tactical speed. Not many horses can win from on the lead, close to the pace, mid pack, and closing….Union Rags can. He also showed that unlike many horses his size that he can accelerate on a dime. That move on the turn was breathtaking; he just simply inhaled them in a matter of three strides. Lastly, this horse ran his final two and a half furlongs in 30 and 1/5 seconds and his final sixteenth in 6.4 seconds, while never being touched with the whip, and then being wrapped up on.
I’m not one to get excited; I like logic, which is why when many horses are called “freaks” I would tend to say differently. In this instance, logic shows that Union Rags is simply a freak. There is no other word, no other adjective that can accurately describe him. Union Rags is back, and ready to take us on the ride of our lives.


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Older Comments about The Freak is Back...

Winplacesho, there has not been a race, except for possibly the Holy Bull, that anyone can say that the winner beat a field of top flight horses. Even that race has things that people can nit pick, like Hansen needed the race/was too fresh, etc, or that some of the others didn't enjoy the sloppy going. Also, remember that UR was coming off a 4 month layoff and had every right to not turn in that type of eye catching performance. He sat off of slow splits and came home quick enough to make a decent time out of it.
I don't think there's any doubt Union Rags should be at the top of the heap right now, but a freak? I'm just not sure he really beat anything. He beat Discreet Dancer, who never routed before & was loose on the lead in both his starts sprinting. Other than that I think the field had mainly allowance horses at best.
icy, Dixieland band top or bottom did well; worked for Street Sense as broodmare. I agree. Union Rags looks much like Dixie Union, who was one heck of good looking sire. I hope we all get to see Union Rags carry that on, regardless the TC outcome.
Okay, there was never anyway Mo was going 10f. He struggled a lot at just 9f, 10f was out of the question. Second, saying 4th and on generations matter is like saying, "This horse goes back to the Godolphin Arabian, he must be amazing!
TRIVIA: How many other Indian Charlies and Discreet Cats won going 10f? HINT: You could've tossed Mo and DDancer just from the Pletcher factor.
Cardly Knot, I'm no expert on breeding either but I do like Dixieland Band in the mix. He has done well as a broodmare sire and had two very good turf horses.
I am high on Union Rags... but the comparisons between him and Uncle Mo are getting old. We will never know if Uncle Mo could get 10F, he was sick before derby time. Then he was rushed into Breeder's Cup off an 8F race. How is that building a foundation? He was mishandled worse that any horse in the recent history. We won't know until at least the Florida Derby if Union Rags can get the distance, my bet is he can. But the comparisons between him and MO are trivial.
Cocoa2, No secret, every pedigree snob goes 5 generations back, and uses inbreeding crosses and dosage to gauge possible outcomes, which also inturn lean much towards the dam's side. Rule of thumb is: every 3rd generation is apt to regenerate esp on the top. I admit, I'm no expert, but statistics and patterns often clarify. Discreet Dancer proved this, as did Uncle Mo. Correct me if I'm wrong, Union Rags isn't NOT the first foal out of Tempo? Yet first mating of Dixie Union/Tempo? UR turned to be a hybrid from the mating - you can tell by his eyes and coat, no less.
Cardly Knot, once you find yourself looking past the Grandsire and Great Grand Dam you are looking horses with little no impact or simillarities to the original horse.
Distance shouldn't be a big deal for U.R. - Northern Dancer, Mr. P, Native Dancer top⊥ 2 of the top TC winners Slew top& Secretariat bottom. With Algorithms scratched, there was only 1 high ranked horse Discreet Dancer to make the race even interesting, while News Pending was way overlooked, IMO. We all know UR wouldv'e beat Hansen granter the wire were a few more strides further down the stretch. Vic, were you referring to all trainer pushing past the wire? I know Baffert prefers them ridden out consistently past the wire.
I thought MV had the best run considering EP kept boring in (tired) and ran at FG which has a one second variant slower than GP.
I not once mentioned El Padrino. My point is this "under wraps" business is WAY overplayed in the media, including here, and, he was not "wrapped up" for the entire final 1/16th of the race. Go take a look at the replay.
driveon, Have you ever heard of keep the horse's concentration? Something UR is known to lose very easily. From the top of the stretch, down the lane, he did slow down. And again, what about the physics of running straight as compared to turning. Answer that please. That is pure science. UR had a much shorter stretch, do you deny that? One horse had a full head of momentum, a target, and a longer stretch. EP should have run faster, all things considered he should have run much faster than UR.
I get that, Vic - that has nothing to do with the point I'm making...
When a race has been won, the trainer will have a fit if the rider continues to prompt him. Over exertion, when it is not required is a big No No
So, when a rider pumps his hands and shakes the reins and shows the horse the stick as Leparoux did inside the 1/16th pole, that's not "asking"? What is then? Actually after heving watched the race again, it was just outside the 70 yd. pole that the rider stopped moving his hands. I suggest you watch the replay a time or two. The horse was CLEARLY asked to run just inside the 1/16th pole.
If you watch the replay, you will notice Leparoux stopped moving his hands exactly 6 strides from the finish - I stand corrected. It is DEFINITELY not 13 strides and the horse did not slow considerably in those last 6 strides, either. Very impressive run, yes. Was there a ton more in the tank if needeed? Unknown and not measurable.
driveon, the rider is the best one to ask to get your answer, and Leparoux was able to get this horse to switch on, off, then on, then off again. With a horse that listens to you that well, yes it is easy to slow him down, especially when he was never running full bore down the stretch. He was never asked the was taken back in hand. Look at RA's Mother Goose, that is a prime example of a horse that could have run much faster had the jockey not eased her back. Last year's Donn, is more towards your example, JV let QR keep running, didn't bring him back he let him keep going. UR and RA were both geared down considerably. You also fail to acknowledge the fact that one had a much shorter strech of straight ground to run over, during the final quarter mile. That makes a difference as well. When the horse is geared down and runs more time turning than straight, than the horse he is being compared to, then yes, it makes a difference.
I'm not sure why I get logged in as different usernames (I am also gocashking-just to be transparent). My question was to you; not the "commentators or rider". How much faster than 6.4 do you believe the horse would have run "if asked"? I don't need commentators to tell me what I am seeing - I've been watching a lot longer than most of them. I've also seen MANY of these "under wraps" types go down in flames when faced with a faster pace or different race dynamics - go watch Bellamy Road's Wood or Sydney's Candy's SA Derby and you'll see for yourself. The point is - and I believe it to be valid - there is not THAT great a difference between the speed a "wrapped up" winner is travelling at then one who finishes under a drive because you can't slow a speeding thoroughbred down that quickly, and, there is NEVER a guarantee that when faced with a stretch duel in a subsequent race the "wrapped up" winner will run faster or succeed.
Gocash, he was wrapped up well before 3/4 strides, at least 1/16th out, which if a horse has a 25ft stride, a pretty good sized stride, is right about 13 strides. The average stride is right around 20ft or so, calculating to over 16 strides. UR also had a shorter, much much shorter stretch run, meaning more of his final quarter mile was spent turning than El Padrino. Based on physics, it is a lot easier to run quicker while running straight than it is while turning. El Padrino was also a sharper horse, already having a 8.5f allowance win this year, before the Risen Star, compared to UR, who was coming off a 17 week layoff, and was nowhere near fully cranked. Your question of is a 1,200lbs animal moving at top speed being that easy to slow down, well ask the commentators and Leparoux. Ask him how easy it was to drive UR from the gate to get position then switch off and relax, then asking him to accelerate on the turn, then finally wrapping him up. Obviously, with a horse that listens as well as UR, it would seem fairly easy compared to most other racehorses. The point is one horse was all out, running straighter for longer, while being asked for his best, while the other wasn't even being ridden hard, was even wrapped up well before the wire, and had a much shorter length of straight ground. EP should have run faster, that is the point.

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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred Racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2001. After that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at the now closed Virginia Intermont College, then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010 Laura came to Horse Racing Nation, but soon branched out to other media outlets, such as Lady and the Track, TwinSpires.com, and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter, while making a return to Horse Racing Nation, where she will once again feature her opinionated columns on the latest in horse racing. 

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