Can Union Rags Beat I’ll Have Another in the Belmont Stakes?

Union Rags 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.

Union Rags

Is Union Rags a Belmont Stakes contender or pretender? – photo by Eclipse Sportswire

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 Derby.

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!

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10 responses to this post.

  1. There is no denying that UR was precocious as a 2 year old and brilliant at races of up to 1-1/16m. Unfortunately, as we have seen too often with young horses, other members of his generation have caught up with or surpass him in their 3 year old development.. His facile victory in the Fountain of Youth was of questionable quality. The second finisher in that race did not make it to the derby, and the third finisher El Padrino finished 16th in the derby. The so-called troubled trips and bum-rides by the jockey in the Florida and the Kentucky derbies very conveniently mask the true quality and character of this horse. Speaking from experience as a former owner, a really good horse with the heart of a champion almost always finds a way to extricate itself from any adversities. The truth is -UR is just not good enough as a 3 year old, and he could not escape the legacy of his pedigree.- sire Dixie Union faded miserably to a distant fourth in his only attempt at 1-1/4m race in the Travers. UR’s brother is a sprint winner. To defeat I’ll Have Another in the Belmont, Union Rags will have to extend a sustained drive, then out kick the former , and hold off the late-charging Dullahan-a most unlikely scenario. Union Rags staggers to third or fourth and his supporters will posit another excuse for his failure to win the big one!

    Reply

    • Posted by Janice Palmer on June 2, 2012 at 3:34 am

      Personally, I just want to see the horse get a good trip and be able to run his race. If he isn’t good enough then, there will be no excuses, but until then, in my mind as well as others, the question will remain.

      Reply

  2. Agree with your article 100%! Finally, someone who sees the most likely truth behind the numbers! ;-)

    Reply

  3. Thanks for the comments. There is still a long way to go this season and hopefully Union Rags will prove himself to be a top notch 3yo during the second half of the year.

    Reply

  4. @JanicePalmer. I also want to see Union Rags have a clean trip. An outer draw would be great. His energy distribution and late pace ratings say a mile and a half is within his reach.

    Reply

    • Posted by Janice Palmer on June 2, 2012 at 11:22 pm

      Agree! Anywhere from 7 or further out would do just fine — especially if the speed ends up to his inside. I just have a feeling he’s gonna do it, and with a “wow, no doubt about it type of performance!” I feel it in my bones, and I don’t get that type of feeling very often! ;-)

      Reply

      • Agree! I went to the Belmont Stakes to watch Point Given and am looking for a similar effort from Union Rags.

      • Posted by Janice Palmer on June 3, 2012 at 1:25 am

        Exactly the kind of performance I expect we’ll see from him! Peter Brette has been more than happy with what he has been feeling under him in recent works — not that he hasn’t been happy with UR before. ;-) Don’t think anyone can touch him at Belmont with a decent trip, and it is about time he had one!!

  5. Big work for Union Rags on June 3. 5f in :59 with a strong gallop out under Johnny V. Getting excited now!

    Reply

    • He’s ready to give it his best shot, which I believe is good enough to win it big! Just hoping for a good post, good start and nice ride from Johnny V. UR will do the rest! ;-)

      Reply

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