03/12/2012 2:54PM

Gulfstream: Florida Derby shaping up as strong test for Union Rags

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Lou Hodges Jr.
El Padrino, with Javier Castellano riding, edges Mark Valeski in the Risen Star.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – In the wake of Union Rags’ brilliant performance last month in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, it sounded like Gulfstream Park’s racing secretary, Dan Bork, would be hard pressed to assemble even a handful of 3-year-olds willing to take on the division leader, even for $1 million, in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31. Now it appears the field size will not only be respectable but that Union Rags may not have any walk in the park in his final Kentucky Derby prep.

Among the 3-year-olds now considering challenging Union Rags in the nine-furlong Florida Derby are Risen Star winner El Padrino, Withers winner Alpha, Fountain of Youth runner-up News Pending, and Take Charge Indy, whose connections opted to pass last Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby in lieu of the Florida Derby. Trainer Ken McPeek said the Florida Derby is also an option for the Tampa Bay Derby runner-up, Golden Ticket.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday that El Padrino “would probably” run in the Florida Derby rather than return to the Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby the following day. El Padrino, who worked a near-bullet half-mile in 48 seconds at Palm Meadows on Monday, outgamed Mark Valeski by a nose to capture the Grade 2 Risen Star on Feb. 25. He had earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure defeating Take Charge Indy by two lengths in an allowance race in his 3-year-old debut. Both those races were at 1 1/16 miles

“Our horse has already won over the track, and it’s a Grade 1. With his pedigree a victory would add significant value as a stallion prospect,” Pletcher explained. “Running in the Florida Derby also takes shipping out of the equation, and if he were to continue on the Derby trail it allows us to stay in south Florida as long as we want to train. I know the toughest 3-year-old around” – Union Rags – “is right here, but in a case like this, it’s more a matter of managing our horse and not worrying about any others.”

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin brought Alpha back to Palm Meadows from New York shortly after his victory in the Withers in part to give him the option to run in the Florida Derby. The other logical choice would be to return to Aqueduct for the Grade 1 Wood the following weekend.

“Right now we’re about 50-50 between the Florida Derby and the Wood,” said McLaughlin. “Obviously we’re not going to be the favorite in either spot.”

McLaughlin said he would consult with Simon Crisford, racing manager for Godolphin “and we’ll discuss our options before making a final decision. The Louisiana Derby is also a possibility. One plus for going in the Florida Derby over the Wood is that it will definitely allow us to keep Ramon as our rider.”

McLaughlin was referring to Ramon Dominguez, the regular rider for both Alpha and Hansen, who figures to be the heavy favorite in the Wood.

News Pending is coming off his best effort yet in the Fountain of Youth.

“He worked great this morning,” trainer Dale Romans said on Sunday. “He’s really starting to come to himself. We’ll look at all the upcoming preps and see how they shape up, but right now we’re leaning towards staying here for the Florida Derby.”

McPeek said the Florida Derby or Blue Grass would be next for Golden Ticket.

“We’ll see how he comes out of this last race and how much time he needs,” said McPeek.

The Blue Grass will be run on April 14, two weeks after the Florida Derby.

jean More than 1 year ago
good luck hasen your a beautiful horse. u can do this. win the derby! .
jean More than 1 year ago
good luck to hasen your aa beautiful horse
Jeffrey Browning More than 1 year ago
Having a 3 yr old horse ready to peak in a M1/4 race on the first Saturday in May is a tough task for any conditioner, but several of them have demonstrated that they have a horse that can get the distance. After seeing Union Rags performance in person in the Breeders Cup, and in the Fountain of Youth, he will be tough as nails to beat in the Florida Derby, and if he comes out of the race OK he is a MUST PICK for me in the Kentucky Derby, even if he finishes 2nd in the Florida Derby (because he demonstrated he can handle the Churchill strip). While any horse that qualifies to run for the roses can win, my thinking at this point is that Union Rags will slam the door on their hopes in the Kentucky Derby, but Just as a precaution, I will be considering Take Charge Indy if he qualifies. Thats Right, Take Charge Indy. You see, Pat knows what he is doing, and there is still time to have him peaking on the first Saturday in May !!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not discount UR's run in the Fountain of Youth. No one has beaten anyone this year. The fact is he did exactly what he was suppose to do with ease against an inferior field and came home well without urging. He moves forward from that race and remains healthy it will be man against boys at Churchill. EH
Matt Hilger More than 1 year ago
Union Rags all the way to the Kentucky Derby with Hasen.
Charles Decker More than 1 year ago
"Brilliant performance" -- A 95 Beyer against a field of non-winners of one other than allowance horses. But then again, it is horse racing in 2012 and mediocre horses (Drosselmeyer, Game on Dude, Mucho Macho Man, Hansen, Union Rags,etc..) are considered superstars. Where art thou John Henry and Spectacular Bid ?
Wayne Haehner More than 1 year ago
if Mr McLaughlin and/or the connections of Alpha choose the Wood--they lose Ramon isnt it all about keeping the worlds best jockey on board?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They should keep Alpha in New York as long as they can. He loves it there. I think he has a big shot in the Belmont.
jose mesa More than 1 year ago
I think they all should run in the Florida Derby,IMO the last prep should provide them with an extremely tough race to get them ready for the Kentucky Derby.
justsayingjohn More than 1 year ago
Roy, Animal Kingdom was much the best in the Derby. Because people were stuck on the dirt angle, he was by far the best going in off his Vinery Spiral Stakes. So I don't know what you are talking about that the best horse doesn't win the Derby, the best horse on that day wins every race you see. Get a clue before making such bold statement
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By far the best going in off his Spiral win?? How? It's not like he got a huge Beyer or anything of that nature. I'm pretty sure his final 3/8 in the Spiral was a little on the slow side. When does that race ever produce a Derby winner? It had just been downgraded to a GIII for a reason. Taking the winner of the Spiral is a risky bet. If you had seen how impressive he was at Churchill leading up to the Derby that's one thing, but he wasn't much the best off his Spiral win.
Lee Davis More than 1 year ago
Is it better to race in the Florida derby then the Blue Grass if you have that option? You get two more weeks rest for your horse going to the Derby!!