02/26/2012 7:00PM

Derby Future Book Favorite Wins Like One

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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.

matthew_melton More than 1 year ago
I don't want to harp on this, but Union Rags shouldve been 2yo colt of the year. His stride always said he could route, clowns who blanketed the Juvenile as a weak group just threw UR in that category as well. This Individual is much different.
Bill More than 1 year ago
Time to hand out the truth,,,Delaware Park 2 yr old races are the best in the country, at least the last ten yrs...Fair Hill training center top of the line in the world...For the real horse people ask Some of the trainers what they think? Matz,Ritchey,Dutrow,Dutrow,Klesaris,Jones..just a few who hang out there in the summer..congrats Mike,,have a good one there....
matthew_melton More than 1 year ago
did you really just say Delaware 2yo races are the best in the country? REally? How about no. A few exceptional and freakish talents begin their careers there and now you pull this statement out? I'll take the Saratoga 2yo races. Let's be a bit more realistic.
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Yes Bill been there to DP to see many recent greats break their maidens and move on up...Capt. Bodgit, Afleet Alex, Barbaro, Hard Spun, and last summer seeing Union Rags run first time and pull away....nice times and horse displays...Don
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Could not agree with you more MW re: above, UR is back, if he ever was away, and just as you say all the pregame chatter was "silly" in retrospect, to it is very clear, the next big question in road to KD, besides staying healthy, revolves around "GEMOLGOIST", it is so obvious he is the big contender, if runs big in April at Oaklawn, there is your KD exacta...he is undefeated, won all his races "Driving" and equaled if not excelled UR performance last November at CD, too bad we will have to wait on him for his next race, but I am confident it will be worth the wait, you really need to reassess your outdated view of him, until then watch the works closely my friend. Don
AdolphsonRacing More than 1 year ago
The feeling here is that El Padrino and Mike Valeski are two horses whose performances didn't look as impressive because they were both in the same race. Take one out, and they win by open lengths and receive (possibly) up to the winning 99 beyer number. Union Rags does have to get a little faster for me to slap a superstar label on him, but I do have to say that I thought Barbaro was lackluster (on dirt) until he was cranked in the Derby. It is probably that Awesome Maria is only going to improve, and should give Havre de Grace all she can handle if they do, indeed, meet. Royal Delta, though she will love distance and even the surface, will simply be outclassed in the DWC. Placing her acceleration on the same page as a horse like CIRRUS DES AIGLES is laughable, at best, but I do hope she performs well. Moreso than that, I am starting to really think that Animal Kingdom just might be good enough to crack the board this year. It's a weak DWC, i.m.o., this year. There are no Twice Overs, Gio Pontis, or Glória de Campeãos this year. Hopefully there's enough star power to make the race seem less like the world's richest off-the-turf Group 2. Sway Away is a bit of a nutcase with an intense kick that is finally starting to come together. The Factor bounced a tiny bit here, and still won. That was impressive. Dubai, considering the lack of lucrative 6-8 furlong races between now and Summer, might not be a terrible idea... as long as there are no monsters like Rocket Man (AUS) or Sepoy. All in all, this was the best weekend of racing thus far. Very exciting.
DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
Disclaimer - I did not bet the Sabin so no sour grapes in play here. Royal Delta was obviously prepping. Maybe the racing powers at GP should have mandated RD was running for purse money only and save some bettors from themselves as Mott was looking down the road. As a gambler these kinds of scenarios can be good or bad depending upon how you viewed RD. I respect Bill Mott and appreciate patience but hopefully betting folks could see this one coming. Rags looked good debuting in 2012 but the field was not one we will be talking about post Triple Crown. Don't know is Discreet Dancer came out of this healthy but assuming he did you have to really question him at two turns versus GR I types. The pace was turf like (24 second clips) and he still collasped. Kings Bishop at SAR yes, KY Derby not so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice exercise for Union Rags. Pletcher pretenders, Algorithms hurt, Discreet Cat can't get distance and El Pradino compared to Union Rags 24 hours later...keep him. Re: Royal Delta, I hope they don't kill her running against the boys. Ladies division looks good with HDG, Awesome Maria, Awesome Feather, RD and hopefully Plum Pretty. After watching Grace Hall, I want My Miss Aurelia...healthy.
mrnickyb More than 1 year ago
Union Rags, however, is a serious race horse. Hope he stays healthy. He will be fun to watch.
mrnickyb More than 1 year ago
Royal delta always runs with six excuses in her pocket. She will be nowhere in Dubai and is very overrated.
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
I think you should let things soak in a little before you get all nostalgic. First of all, how was this performance any better than El Padrino's allowance win over the same track? Take Charge Indy is a better colt than News Pending and Discreet Dancer is just not a two turn horse. Secondly, El Padrino was shipped in to face a full field of horses who for the most part all had the upper hand because they had all trained and won over the course.
Steve Roman More than 1 year ago
I agree with you. I think the Risen Star was a much better race and I think El Padrino is much better suited to 10f. Union Rags' sire, Dixie Union, has never gotten a major winner beyond 9f despite siring about 750 foals and being mated with numerous stamina-bred mares. El Padrino's sire, Pulpit, has already gotten five major winners at classic distances from about the same number of foals.