01/05/2012 2:41PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Union Rags

Barbara D. Livingston

In music, Katy Perry sings about the one that got away.

In horse racing, Phyllis Wyeth is thankful she doesn’t have that lament. In March 2011, Wyeth bought back a 2-year-old colt she had bred for more than 2 1/2 times the price she had sold him for as a yearling. The colt was Union Rags, winner of the Grade 1 Champagne and Grade 2 Saratoga Special, and the buyback was worth it. By virtue of those two victories and a narrow loss to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Union Rags is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old colt or gelding.

Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, went 3 for 4 in his 2-year-old season, which included a maiden win at Delaware Park on July 12. When Union Rags splashed his way to a 7 1/4-length victory in the Saratoga Special on Aug. 15, Wyeth, who races under the name Chadds Ford Stable, not only earned the $90,000 first-place purse, but also received an additional $200,000 bonus because Union Rags was a graduate of the Fasig-Tipton sale at Saratoga and he returned to win a stakes at Saratoga.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

That additional money helped Wyeth offset the $390,000 she spent on Union Rags at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-olds in training sale last March at Palm Meadows. On the advice of her accountant, Wyeth sold Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union, as a yearling for $145,000. The colt was purchased by IEAH Stable. Wyeth, whose family has had a long history in the game and campaigned the likes of Devil’s Bag, wanted to get the colt back when she realized that his dam, Tempo, could not have any more foals.

“I kept having this premonition about [Union Rags],” Wyeth said in an interview with Pennsylvania Equestrian magazine. “I said, ‘Phyllis, this is the best of my mother’s breeding program. I don’t care about the money. I’ve got to have this horse back.’ “ Though Union Rags was impressive winning his first two starts, it was in the Champagne at Belmont Park that he caught the public’s attention. In the Champagne, Union Rags was bothered at the start, steadied down the backside, and lacked running room approaching the quarter pole.

In upper stretch, jockey Javier Castellano was going to try to move Union Rags to the inside, but he was shut off by another horse. That forced Castellano to pull hard on the reins and guide Union Rags to the outside. Once in the clear, Union Rags lengthened his stride and powered home a 5 1/4-length winner.

“He lost all momentum, I had to stop,” Castellano said. “When he did see daylight he took off. He’s a special horse.”
Sent off the even-money favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, Union Rags again didn’t have the best of trips, racing wide early from post 10 and drifting out in the stretch. When Castellano did straighten Union Rags out, he came running but fell a head short to Hansen.

Still, it was a solid performance that has Matz and Wyeth thinking about a return to trip to Churchill Downs in May. Union Rags is based in south Florida and will likely use the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26 and the Florida Derby on March 31 as stepping-stones to the Derby.

Date Track Race Finish Chart Distance Time Beyers Video
11/5/11 CD Breeders Cup Juvenile 2nd 1 1/16 mile 1:44.44 94 Video
10/08/11 BEL Champagne 1st 1 mile 1:35.55 92 Video
8/15/11 SAR Saratoga Special 1st 6 1/2 furlongs 1:18.33 95 Video

Union Rags


Breeder: Phyllis M. Wyeth
Trainer: Michael R. Matz
Owner: Chadds Ford Stable
Record: 3-3-0-0
Best Beyer: 95