11/06/2011 12:01PM

Breeders' Cup: Little separates Hansen, Union Rags in race for leading juvenile

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Barbara D. Livingston
Hansen has a strong claim to champion 2-year-old male after going 3 for 3 this season, including a narrow win over favored Union Rags in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a race that might prove as tight as the finish to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race Hansen won by a head over Union Rags, the top two finishers could soon be locked in another battle, with this one decided by votes to determine North America’s top 2-year-old colt of 2011

Both Hansen, who finished the year undefeated in three starts by winning the Juvenile, and Union Rags, who lost little in defeat with a wide trip in running second in the race, have the credentials to win an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.

With the two colts not scheduled to race any more this year, there is nothing more the two can do to settle the debate. However, their trainers weighed in on the matter Sunday morning.

Michael Matz, the trainer of Union Rags, said he felt Eclipse Award honors for top 2-year-old colt could be “a tossup.”

The Eclipse Awards are determined by votes from National Thoroughbred Racing Association representatives, members of the National Turf Writers Association, and Daily Racing Form staff.

The announcement of the 2011 Eclipse Award winners is set for Jan. 16, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California, with voting expected to conclude in late December.

“He did win a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 and got beat a head in the Breeders Cup,” Matz said of triumphs from Union Rags in the Champagne and Saratoga Special. “Whether that’s enough, whether they look into other things like how it went, it’s hard to say. I don’t know. Then again, the other horse did the win the Breeders’ Cup.”

Hansen did that indeed, and although he had the better trip of the two horses in winning the race, his greatest strength, his early speed, contributed to that key advantage. He also raced more professionally than Union Rags, who drifted out in the midstretch, costing him momentum and perhaps the race.

Mike Maker, trained of victorious Hansen, who easily won a maiden race and the Kentucky Cup Juvenile prior to the Breeders’ Cup, felt his horse won the 2-year-old championship on the track in his only meeting with Union Rags.

“An undefeated 2-year-old that wins the Breeders’ Cup, it would be hard not to” vote him champion, he said.

The two came out of the race in good condition, their trainers said, and both will winter in south Florida. Matz and Maker each said stakes races at Gulfstream Park would be the most logical races for their colts given where they would be based.

Union Rags will get  30 to 60 days off, Matz said, either resting at a farm in Ocala, Fla.  or at Palm Meadows Training Center.

Maker said he had not drawn up a concrete plan with Hansen, but said his instinct is to keep him in light training.

“He strikes me as a horse that would be probably happier in the barn - doing his job,” he said.