03/17/2012 11:23AM

Gulfstream Park notes: Union Rags, Take Charge Indy breeze five furlongs

Barbara D. Livingston
Union Rags worked an easy five furlongs Saturday. His next start will be the March 31 Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Union Rags breezed a leisurely five furlongs in 1:04.21 seconds shortly after sunrise Saturday morning at Palm Meadows as he continues preparations for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31.

Union Rags was on the track at the same time as another Florida Derby hopeful, Take Charge Indy, who worked a quicker five-eighths in 1:01.88 from the half-mile to the mile pole for trainer Pat Byrne.

Union Rags, with Julien Leparoux aboard, went off easily, posting early splits of 25.60 and 38.80 seconds, according to track clocker Bryan Walls. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:17.

“It was just a nice little maintenance work, just something to stretch his legs,” said trainer Michael Matz. “He can get a little lazy at times but Julien said he did everything he asked him to do and he galloped out well. He’s very fit right now.”

Matz said he’d bring Union Rags back next Saturday for a “sharper half-mile” work as his final prep for the mile and one-eighth Florida Derby.

“It looks like it’s going to be about a six- or seven-horse field but a good one,” said Matz. “I can’t worry about who else is going to be in there. We’re going to meet some of them sooner or later so it might as well be sooner. I’m just happy with the horse I have right now. That’s all I can ask for.”

Take Charge Indy scratched last Saturday from the Tampa Bay Derby to await the Florida Derby. His fractions were 25 and 48.80 to the wire with a six-furlong gallop out around to the six-furlong pole in 1:15 with former jockey Frank Todd aboard.

“I thought he worked super,” said Byrne. “It was just a nice, easy work. He went on his own and cooled out fantastic like he always does. I’m really excited. He’s fit and ready. It should be a good race. Hopefully we’ll catch a dry track instead of a wet one.”

Take Charge Indy is coming off a second-place finish behind El Padrino under allowance conditions over a “good” track here earlier this winter.

“The wet track didn’t hurt us last time but it might have helped the other horse a little more, although El Padrino is a very good horse,” said Byrne. “We’re happy with our decision to wait for the Florida Derby and looking forward to the race. Hopefully we’ll get a good piece and have enough graded money to make the Derby.”

Alpha, who is under consideration for the Wood Memorial, Louisiana Derby, or Florida Derby, also worked Saturday at Palm Meadows going five furlongs in 1:01.01. for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Other 3-year-old works of note on Saturday’s tab at Palm Meadows included Stealcase, a bullet five-eighths in 1:00.40, and Grace Hall, five furlongs in 1:00.70. Stealcase is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Gotham. Grace Hall is expected to go postward the favorite in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on the Florida Derby undercard.

Stat appreciates return to a fast track

Stat, runner-up to Union Rags in the Grade  2 Saratoga Special at 2, remained unbeaten on dry surfaces when drawing off to an easy entry-level optional claiming win in Saturday’s fourth race. The victory was the second in four starts for the son of Unbridled’s Song, who is owned by the Bertolazzo Stable and was ridden to victory by John Velazquez for trainer Todd Pletcher.

“It was a big improvement from last time. We were happy to catch a fast track. His last two races were on a sloppy track. We were happy to get him on a fast track and it looked like he ran much better,” said Pletcher. “We’ll see how he bounces out of this race and go from there. I think he might [stretch out], he’s still learning and this was a big improvement for him.”

Scatter Joy, the even-money favorite coming off a very impressive 7  1/2-length debut win here five weeks earlier, raced very greenly and finished a tiring third after drifting badly through the stretch.   

* Trainer Roger Attfield said Saturday that Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl will not go to Dubai to run in the Sheema Classic as scheduled after suffering a minor ankle strain that forced her to miss a work Friday at Payson Park. Perfect Shirl finished eighth in The Very One Stakes earlier in the meet.