Most trainers are blessed to win the Kentucky Derby once in their life. Just getting a horse to start in the race is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Michael Matz won the race in 2006 with the infinitely talented tragic hero Barbaro. Now, in 2012, he’s got a horse that’s likely to take him back to the promise land. Can the colt named Union Rags become his second victor in the Run for the Roses? Right now, he is favored to do so.
The next start for the Chadds Ford Stables owned colt will come on February 26 in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. That race has been quite salty over the past few years, with winners like Eskendereya, Quality Road, Scat Daddy and First Samurai. It’s likely to be just as hard in 2012 with his main rival, Hansen, also targeting that race.
After that, he will look to the Grade I Florida Derby, a race won by Barbaro in 2006. The race has been a great springboard for Kentucky Derby contenders like Empire Maker (second), Monarchos, Big Brown and Ice Box (second). This could be the first occasion where we see him exhibit true distance limitations. While I expect him to handle the nine furlongs distance of the Florida Derby, I’m not so sure the extra panel in the Kentucky Derby is within his range.
Pedigree is the primary reason he might struggle. Union Rags finished a hard charging second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but was drifting quite a bit down the lane. His sire, Dixie Union, won the Haskell Invitational. Despite that, he hasn’t really produced classic type runners. Broodmare sire Gone West produced runners that were more sprinter/miler oriented like Speightstown and Grand Slam.
It’s not all bad. His second dam, Terpsichorist, was an excellent turf router and her sire, Nijinsky, has been an excellent route influence. Distance will matter less as he develops into a more mature and defined colt, but for now, it’s something to consider.
While the current trend favors only two preps for the first Saturday in May, it might be beneficial for this guy to race three times. It would give him the chance to become more of a professional before he goes back to Churchill Downs, where anything can happen.
For all the not so good things I’ve pointed out, there is plenty to like about Union Rags. First and foremost, he is incredibly fast. We saw that in in the Saratoga Special, Champagne Stakes and in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s had a bit of racing trouble and bad luck in his young career and handled it very well. That’s always a good sign.
To put this in wall street terms, I’m a bear on Union Rags. That’s subject to change, obviously, but for now I’m not sure he’s got enough bottom to get the classic distance.