The arrival of the New Year in horse racing means that the prep races for the Kentucky Derby are getting under way. Over the next few weeks, DerbyDeals.com will be previewing some of the strongest contenders for this year’s “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs on May 4th. Union Rags is one of the most popular three-year-olds to emerge from a crowded field of Derby hopefuls who have their sights set on the biggest event in all of horse racing.
Union Rags, in only four races, has established himself as a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby. He has also developed a knack for coming behind in the stretch run to pull away to impressive victories. He began his career in a five furlong maiden special weight contest at Delaware Park, where he won with a 0:58.25 mark. He was stretched out to 6 ½ furlongs in his next race, a trend that would continue for each successive race. Ridden for the first time by Javier Castellano, in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, he pulled away late on a sloppy track to win by six lengths.
His next contest was also his first run in a Grade 1 stakes race, the Champagne at Belmont in New York. The winner of this race would qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for males. As he did in his first two races, Union Rags rallied from behind to claim victory. He stalked the lead pack at the ½ mile mark, before turning it on once again in the stretch. He romped to a five length victory and would be moving on to Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup where he would face stiff competition from other early Kentucky Derby contenders, Creative Cause, and Hansen.
In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes, a Grade 1 race, Union Rags was even money and the favorite. For most of the race, Castellano was content to stay just behind the lead pack of four horses, well within striking distance. True to form, the stretch is where he surged, moving past the front-runners and pulling nearly even with Hansen who had the lead. With just over a furlong to go, Union Rags drifted outside a bit before he was able to rally and finish just behind the winner, Hansen, who posted a fast time of 1:44.44.
Union Rags is owned by Chadds-Ford Stables in Kentucky and trained by Michael Matz, who won a Kentucky Derby with the popular Barbaro in 2006. The next race for this closer is slated to be at Gulfstream Park on February 26th, at the Fountain of Youth Stakes.