Updated on 03/01/2012 3:52PM

Gulfstream: Union Rags standing tall after Fountain of Youth triumph

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Bob Coglianese
Union Rags coasts to victory under Julien Leparoux in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26, 2012.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.- Union Rags stood in his paddock located behind the barn area at Palm Meadows training center early Monday morning vigorously attacking a flake of hay while his trainer, Michael Matz, looked on. It may be one of the last peaceful moments the pair will get to spend between now and Kentucky Derby day.

Union Rags thrust himself squarely into the eye of the media storm sure to follow his every move during the next nine weeks after opening his 3-year-old campaign with a sensational four-length victory over News Pending in Sunday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The final margin of victory was not a true indication of Union Rags’ dominance in a race Matz had picked out as merely a prep towards his ultimate goal on the first Saturday of May.

“You never know what to expect after being away four months, but I couldn’t have asked for things to have gone any better than they did on Sunday,” Matz said. “I wasn’t surprised he ran well, what surprised me was that he did it so easily.”

Union Rags, who received a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for the Fountain of Youth, was ridden for the first time by Julien Leparoux.

“Julien said he never hit him with the stick,” said Matz. “He said he relaxed well and when he asked him to run, he ran. It’s not too complicated. And he galloped out strong. He really only ran the last quarter-mile, if that, and from the looks of him today the race doesn’t appear to have taken anything out of him.”

Matz said he has definitely noticed a change in Union Rags since he suffered his only defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“You can certainly see a change in him from 2 to 3,” said Matz. “He’s more mature and he’s grown. He’s 17 hands now.”

Matz said he sees no reason not to stick to his original plan and bring Union Rags back in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31.

“The timing is real good, and with these two races in him, we certainly won’t be over-racing him going into the Kentucky Derby,” Matz said. “He’ll go back to the track to jog on Wednesday, have a day off Thursday, and then start galloping again Friday. He’ll probably have a maintenance work in about two weeks and maybe one more before the Florida Derby. I really don’t need to do too much with him now. We just needed to get by this first one.”

Trainer Dale Romans said he couldn’t be happier with the performance of News Pending, who turned in a strong effort easily to easily finish second in the Fountain of Youth.

“We were expecting him to improve. He’s been training like a horse ready for his break out race, and I thought he ran very well,” said Romans. “I’m not sure what we’ll do next, but there’s a good chance he’ll come back in the Florida Derby. I’ll sit down with the owners over the weekend, and in the end it will be Seth’s decision where we’ll go.”

News Pending is owned by Seth Klarman and William Lawrence.

Todd Pletcher said he was disappointing in the performance of the previously undefeated Discreet Dancer, who finished a tiring third after setting the pace for the opening six furlongs of the Fountain of Youth.

“I can’t make much excuse for him,” said Pletcher. “We got the pace we were looking for and the trip we were looking for. He just came up empty. I could see him losing to Union Rags, but I didn’t expect him to throw in the towel that quickly. We’ll just have to regroup before deciding what to do next.”

Pletcher also said there was no change Monday in the condition of his undefeated Algorithms, who was scratched from the Fountain of Youth after popping a splint on Saturday. He said no decision regarding his immediate future would be made until later in the week.

Trainer Ian Wilkes said he felt his Neck ‘n Neck would improve off his troubled fourth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth. Neck ‘n Neck had to steady sharply on the clubhouse turn and did not corner all that well coming into the stretch.

“He’s still a little green and making mistakes, but I was happy with his race and he’ll learn from the experience,” said Wilkes. “You can’t make those types of mistakes against good horses, although even without any mistakes we couldn’t have beaten Michael’s horse if we rode in the back of a truck.”

Wilkes said the Florida Derby would be “a consideration” for Neck ‘n Neck’s next start.

Trainer Nick Zito reported Monday that Casual Trick, who finished seventh in the Fountain of Youth, displaced his palate during the race will require minor throat surgery. Zito said Casual Trick also displaced during his previous race.

"It's a mechanical issue that needs to be fixed," said Zito. "It's a minor procedure, and he should be back to the track shortly."

The weekend wasn’t a total loss for Pletcher’s Derby hopefuls. On Saturday, he sent out El Padrino to a game decision over Mark Valeski in the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. El Padrino received a Beyer Figure of 98 for his performance in the Risen Star.

“I thought he ran very well, it was a good effort, especially considering it was a speed-favoring track there Saturday,” said Pletcher. “We’ll play it by ear with him regarding what’s next. The obvious options would be to go back to the Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby, keep him here for the Florida Derby or even go to the Wood. We’ll see how things shape up, but it probably would make more sense for us to run where he would be the favorite for $1 million rather than be the second choice for $1 million.”

Trainer Larry Jones said Mark Valeski came back from the Risen Star "really good" and that the Louisiana Derby is "definitely the number-one priority for him."

Jones said that Lecomte winner Mr. Bowling, who finished a distant 11th in the Risen Star, also came out of the race in good shape.

"We're looking at the race as a throw out race for him," said Jones. "We sure feel a whole lot better today. We think we've got it figured out."

Z Dager, a distant third in the Risen Star, is also likely to return in the Louisiana Derby on April 1.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman

Dan Burgess More than 1 year ago
They just changed Algorhythms Speed figure to a 105 from his previous figure in the Holy Bull. I think they will do the same for Union Rags. Regardless of the figure, Rags ran a visually impressive race in a fast time after slow fractions were set for the first half. He is a big, muscular colt who reminds me of Barbaro, and Mr. Matz definitely knows how to train a Derby winner.
Rickey Cooper More than 1 year ago
I noticed that union rags was bigger and more muscled than the other horses.He looks older than them.This will be todd pletcher's third year in a row his top three year old did'nt make it to the derby.
Bill More than 1 year ago
ho hum! ho hum...another 2 yr old that started at Delaware Park....Fair hill Training center and the Delaware park meet in the summer..pay attention to these horses and the horsemen, Larry jones,mike matz,tim rithchey,richard and anthony dutrow,Steve Klesaris, all these guys hang out at these facilities...and the last ten years ponies from this meet have gone everywhere and anywhere and won...(HINT-HINT)..Including horse of the year...
Juan Sandoval More than 1 year ago
95? that was at least a triprle digit beyer..!! If i get atleast 5-1 in the kentucky derby..im betting my RV!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got 10-1 last week on twin spires!!
David Dominguez More than 1 year ago
Y does pletcher go tru this every year??? I will definitely stop using his horses on the Derby pool..
Mike Susan Rullo More than 1 year ago
something is just not right in the pletcher barn. el padrino better stay away from pletcher. pletcher stinks, I would move that horse before he gets hurt
matthew_melton More than 1 year ago
wow, you're dumb. stop embarrassing yourself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
look who's dumb. lets ignore all the breakdowns, liver diseases, how they run like they're strapped to a rocket then nothing. he came up under the tutelage of dw lukas.open your eyes. and so you know I've seen it first hand off a associates claim that needed time off because he looked like he came out of a crack house. lets stop wearing rose colored glasses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He`s 38% ill take that any day!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another Pletcher down the tubes. Amazing how they regress.
matthew_melton More than 1 year ago
Discreet Dancer is out of Discreet Cat. All of Discreet Cat's offspring thus far have shown to be sprint-types. Educate yourself before making another uninformed statement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ha your a joke. and naive, every year you see the pletcher burnout. its the drugs professer.
Tevis McCauley More than 1 year ago
$214,000,000 plus in career earnings!!! That's the Todd Pletcher you all are talking about? He's one of the greatest horsemen in the world, you read the racing form, stats don't lie. Leave him out at your own risk.
Tevis McCauley More than 1 year ago
Oh yeah and he won the derby 2 years ago!!! LOL
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
well i believe mike repole lost 9 mil. 2 years ago and another 3 or 4 last year and thats with 2 big horses and i've seen a few $200,000 + purchases running for $12,500 claimers. you can use him...lol...and the derby he won was a fluke over the slop, yea super saver he's a champ!...LOL
Paul Colyer More than 1 year ago
Union Rags is on his way, still the Kentucky Derby favourite
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poor J.J.
Rickey Cooper More than 1 year ago
Union Rags was two fiths off the track or the stakes record yet he only got a 95 speed figure isn't that low.
Al Olivere More than 1 year ago
i agree 95 seems low
matthew_melton More than 1 year ago
Why do people still put stock in the Beyer speed figs? Makes no sense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just handicap the race, Pace makes the race forget speed fig`s