02/26/2012 7:00PM

Derby Future Book Favorite Wins Like One


Hallandale Beach, Fl. – The palpable sense of disappointment that permeated Gulfstream Park Sunday morning after the news broke that Algorithms had to be scratched from the Fountain of Youth Stakes gave way late Sunday afternoon to a sense that all was right in the world again. Union Rags, the future book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, delivered a knockout victory in the Fountain of Youth in his first start as a 3-year-old.

Even with Algorithms out of the picture, there were a lot of questions in the Fountain of Youth concerning Union Rags and the other big colt in the race, Discreet Dancer. Union Rags already had the earnings for a starting spot in the Derby, and with a two prep race schedule before Kentucky (the Fountain of Youth and then the Florida Derby), the obvious question was how tightly wound he would be for Sunday’s return, his first start since his narrow defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, his only career defeat. This was a question, because there was no real need for Union Rags to be tightly wound at all. For Discreet Dancer, who was so impressive winning the first two starts of his career, we needed to know how he would handle the simultaneous class raise to stakes company, and the stretch out two turn turns.

In the end, it says a lot about Union Rags that, after the fact, he made these questions seem so silly. He was always well placed, he inhaled Discreet Dancer nearing the stretch, and he then ran away from his Fountain of Youth field like they didn’t belong in the same race with him, which they didn’t. And the scary thing about it is, Union Rags did this without appearing to come close to producing his “A” race. Imagine what he might be capable of when he is wound tightly, and is ready to perform at peak efficiency.

The other thing about Union Rag’s Fountain of Youth is it came when Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds was only 24 hours old, and still fresh in one’s mind, inviting direct comparison. Taking nothing away from El Padrino, who was good winning the Risen Star in game style over a colt in Mark Valeski who might be a nice one, and who proved he is more than a wet track horse, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a comparison at all. Union Rags lent the Fountain of Youth a special air, a sense of exceptional quality, that the Risen Star seemed to lack.

Speaking of class, what a comeback for Awesome Maria Saturday in the Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream. One of last year’s top older females until injury forced a premature conclusion to her campaign, Awesome Maria made it clear that she will again a major force in a powerful older female division – hey, that’s where Horse of the Year Havre de Grace lives – by drubbing Royal Delta, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly. But I wouldn’t get too hung up on the eight length gap between Awesome Maria and Royal Delta in the Sabin. Royal Delta was prepping Saturday for the Dubai World Cup; in fact, the whole exercise in the Sabin was reminiscent of when she ran in last fall’s Beldame. Royal Delta, who had just won the Alabama around two turns, seemed to be merely prepping in the one turn Beldame, in which she was beaten a little more than eight lengths by Havre de Grace, for her return to two turns in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. Of course, Royal Delta won the Ladies Classic.

In a couple of other quick observations, people here at Gulfstream, myself included, were still wondering Sunday how Yara, at 64-1, was able to edge Grace Hall in Saturday’s Davona Dale Stakes here. Yeah, Grace Hall was probably short in her first start since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. But how was Yara, whose one claim to fame was a Florida bred stakes win and who had never been two turns before, even able to capitalize on Grace Hall being short?

The Factor was game winning Saturday’s San Carlos, and if he is not the best male sprinter in the country, then he is certainly one of them. But Sway Away impressed with his fast closing second. Of course, Sway Away impressed when a fast closing second to The Factor a year ago in the San Vicente while racing against a speed bias, but things didn’t pan out for him after that. Maybe Sway Away is now ready to be an important horse.