10/06/2011 2:19PM

Belmont Park: Union Rags gets Breeders' Cup test in Champagne

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Barbara D. Livingston
Union Rags, with Javier Castellano up, wins the Grade 2 Saratoga Special by 7 1/4 lengths in his last start.

ELMONT, N.Y. – After Union Rags splashed his way to a 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in mid-August, trainer Michael Matz had two choices: wheel the 2-year-old back in three weeks in the Grade 1 Hopeful or wait seven weeks and point to the Grade 1 Champagne.

Matz opted for the latter, figuring if he was going to have to run Union Rags back on relatively short rest, he’d rather do it for a race like the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile four weeks from now at Churchill Downs.

Matz and eight of his colleagues will find out if they have the goods for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when a field of nine 2-year-olds goes postward in the $300,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. The Champagne, one of three Grade 1 stakes on the 10-race card, is a Win and You’re In race, affording the winner an entry-fees-paid trip to the Juvenile, plus $10,000 in travel expenses.

Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union, won the Saratoga Special in front-running fashion under Javier Castellano – dueling with three other horses early – after coming from off the pace to win his debut at Delaware Park.

“From the one hole, I think Castellano had it in his mind to go,” Matz said “It worked out, and he ran a big race. He came out of it good, he’s trained good up until now. When the distances start to get longer, and he doesn’t have to be pressed much in the beginning, I think it’ll be to his advantage.”

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

Union Rags will break from post 6 under Castellano.

The field features seven horses who have a maiden win to their credit and one horse, Invocation, who is winless in two starts.

Power World, a son of Distorted Humor, comes off a fifth-place finish in the Hopeful that was run in the slop. Vexor and Trinniberg, who finished eighth and second in the Hopeful, respectively, came back to run 1-2 in the Nashua Stakes here Sunday.

Trainer Neil Howard has always thought Power World would appreciate longer distances, but he chose the one-mile Champagne over the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland because of how well the horse has been training at Belmont.

“Basically, he’s trained very, very smooth here,” Howard said. “We were thinking about Keeneland with the two turns, but after discussing with Mr. [Donald] Adam, maybe it might be the better play and keep him with where he’s familiar and on the dirt.”

Alpha, a son of Bernardini, was an impressive six-length debut winner for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Darley Stable. McLaughlin had to do additional gate work with Alpha, who had a propensity for breaking outward in the morning. Alpha had no problems breaking in his debut.

“I loved the way he ran, he’s trained great since and we feel like he has a big chance,” McLaughlin said. “I would say the horse to beat is Union Rags. After that, we’re right there.”

Alpha, who will break from post 5 under Alan Garcia, will race for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable.

Invocation finished second to Alpha at Saratoga after finishing third to Giant Surprise five weeks earlier. Trainer John Kimmel is adding blinkers to Invocation’s equipment, and he expects to see an improved performance in the Champagne.

“He’s been a little slow at the start, he’s been much more forward with the blinkers,” Kimmel said. “David Cohen, who has breezed him in blinkers, is pretty adamant the horse is a different horse with the change of equipment.”

No Spin, who finished fourth in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, tries dirt for the first time in the Champagne. He is a son of Johannesburg, who won the 2001 BC Juvenile at Belmont.

Speightscity, Takes the Gold, Right to Vote, and Laurie’s Rocket – all of whom won maiden races in their second starts – complete the field.


# HORSE JOCKEY TRAINER

1

No Spin 
ML: 10-1
R. Maragh 
122 Lbs
T. Ice

1

Speightscity 
ML: 10-1
C. Nakatani 
122 Lbs
G. Contessa

1

Takes the Gold 
ML: 6-1
J. Velazquez 
122 Lbs
R. Dutrow, Jr.

1

Power World 
ML: 8-1
E. Prado 
122 Lbs
N. Howard

1

Alpha 
ML: 5-2
A. Garcia 
122 Lbs
K. McLaughlin

1

Union Rags 
ML: 7-5
J. Castellano 
122 Lbs
M. Matz

1

Right to Vote 
ML: 12-1
A. Solis 
122 Lbs
E. Harty

1

Invocation 
ML: 20-1
D. Cohen 
122 Lbs
J. Kimmel

1

Laurie's Rocket 
ML: 30-1
C. Velasquez 
122 Lbs
D. Stewart