One of the best things about horse racing is watching younger horses develop from maidens to world-class thoroughbreds. Sometimes it takes several races for a young colt or filly to mature and flourish. But other times, it’s evident right from the start that one is watching a future Kentucky Derby contender in the making. If you saw Union Rags win the Champagne Stakes at Belmont last Saturday, then you know exactly how the latter feels.
Union Rags broke his maiden in a powerful come-from-behind victory at Delaware Park in July. He was running in fourth coming into the final turn before exploding past pacesetter Jake N Elwood to win by a length and 3/4. It was obvious in his maiden race that Union Rags had the power and speed necessary to win. He then ran on a sloppy track at The Spa in the Grade 2 Three Chimneys. While not needing to come from behind this time, he showed that he loves the stretch as he once again tore through the final two furlongs to win by 7 1/4 lengths.
Those first two races already had folks talking about this young, feisty colt. It didn’t take long after the win at Saratoga for the comparisons to start being made. Union Rags is trained by Michael Matz. Michael Matz trained Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, through an undefeated career until his untimely injuries in The Preakness Stakes. Barbaro also made his debut at Delaware Park and after the romping at The Spa, the seasoned trainer was already drawing comparisons between the two horses. But the biggest test was yet to come.
Matz had his eye on the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont as the young colt’s true test. Expectations were high as Union Rags went off as the odds-on favorite. The young colt shied at the break and was hemmed in down the backstretch. Jockey Javier Castellano attempted to split between Right to Vote and Power World coming down the stretch but finally cut to the outside. As soon as Union Rags got clear, he hit another gear and powered home to a 5-length victory.
Matz was very pleased with the colt’s win in the Champagne and is now eyeing the biggest prize yet: The Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November. The Champagne was a “win-and-you’re-in” Breeder’s Cup Challenge race so the Union Rags camp will be preparing for a race that could put them in the Derby spotlight for sure.