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.
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!