10/08/2011 4:41PM

Belmont Park: Union Rags takes division lead by overcoming trouble in Champagne

Barbara D. Livingston
Union Rags and jockey Javier Castellano power home after overcoming traffic problems in upper stretch of the Champagne.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Union Rags overcame a difficult trip to dominate Saturday’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and stamp himself as the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile next month at Churchill Downs.

Stuck between horses down the backside, having to wait for running room at the quarter pole and then altering course at the three-sixteenths pole, Union Rags took off when he found daylight outside the eighth pole and galloped home a 5 1/4-length winner of the $300,000 Champagne. Alpha, far back early, rallied to be second by a neck over Right to Vote. Takes the Gold, Invocation, No Spin, Power World, and Laurie’s Rocket completed the order of finish.

The win was the third in as many starts for Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union owned and bred by Phyllis Wyeth, wife of renowned American artist Jamie Wyeth. The win earned Union Rags an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as part of the Win and You’re In program where all entry-fees are picked up by the Breeders’ Cup.

Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, had won the Adirondack at Saratoga in front-running fashion and jockey Javier Castellano was planning to utilize those same tactics on Saturday. But at the start, he was bothered by Right to Vote and was in fifth position early while Power World set the pace, pressed by Right to Vote.

Down the backside, Castellano had to take a hold of Union Rags to get out from behind horses.

Union Rags advanced steadily into contention around the turn, but needed running room turning for home. He found some and Castellano was going to move along the inside in the stretch. But at the three-sixteenths pole, Right to Vote veered in, forcing Castellano to pull hard on the reins and guide Union Rag to the outside.

Once clear, however, Union Rags lengthened his stride, inhaled Right to Vote inside the eighth pole and charged home an eye-catching winner. His final time of 1:35.55 for the mile was a .33 slower than My Miss Aurelia’s time in the Frizette, but he had a much more difficult trip. He returned $4.40 as the favorite.

“He’s an amazing horse nothing bothers him,” Castellano said. “He got a lot of dirt in the face he was blocked all the day and in tight down the backside.”

While he was able to overcome that problem, Union Rags showed uncharacteristic agility for a big horse to re-break after being yanked so hard upon in upper stretch.

“He lost all the momentum, I had to stop,” Castellano said. “When he did see daylight he took off. He’s a special horse.”

Commenting about the trip, Matz said traffic "is going to happen with 2-year-olds and they find a way out, don’t they? I think he’s a real good horse. Anytime they can win going five-eighths with me you know they’re a nice horse."


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