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Hovdey: Matz soldiers on with Colonial Flag in American Oaks
By Jay Hovdey
It came as a slim ray of welcome news to Michael Matz at the end of a long, draining day: Union Rags had tested clean for frog juice after his seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
The cloud was lifted, such as it was, manufactured by a public relations stunt courtesy of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which announced Wednesday that all Kentucky Derby and Oaks starters had tested negative for dermorphin.
Matz had to laugh, but it was one of those cold, mirthless laughs tempered by the reality at hand, that his 2012 Belmont Stakes winner had been diagnosed with an injury that would prevent Union Rags from completing what could have been a memorable 3-year-old campaign.
“It’s been one of those years,” Matz said. “One minute you’re on top of the world, and the next day you’re looking up at it.”
Undaunted, Matz is diving right back into the deep end of the pool Saturday with the upwardly mobile Colonial Flag in the $350,000 American Oaks at Betfair Hollywood Park. The daughter of Pleasant Tap is a $475,000 yearling owned by Skara Glen Stable, William Farish, and ENL Stables. Because Colonial Flag also is a half-sister to Shared Account, winner of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf for Graham Motion, the 10 furlongs of the American Oaks should be right up her alley.
Several of the other fillies in the nine-strong field can boast similar inclinations. Mi Gi Gi, winner of the Honeymoon at Hollywood, is out of a mare by Sadler’s Wells, and all he did was sire High Chaparral, Montjeu, Galileo, and Yeats. Regalo Mia is by the Sadler’s Wells stallion Sligo Bay out of a daughter of Preakness winner Red Bullet, while Left a Message boasts an up-close cross of Gone West and Deputy Minister.
Such pedigrees will only get a filly so far, though, until training, experience and racing luck takes over. Colonial Flag comes to town with just four races to her name, but her most recent effort – a stubborn second in the June 16 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs – puts her in the thick of the American Oaks mix.
“We thought we’d get her going as a 2-year-old, but never quite got there,” said Matz, who was on the scene at Hollywood on Thursday morning. “She’s a very big filly and just needed to fill out a little bit more. Graham told me Shared Account was very much the same way.”
Only in America does a trainer need to explain why a 3-year-old of proven ability was not on display as a 2-year-old, as if there is something suspicious going on for arriving so late at the dance. In the case of Colonial Flag, the explanation is transparent. By both inclination and patronage, Matz prefers to play the long game, and so far he has made it work. There are a lot of ways to describe the trainer – forthright, self-deprecating, well-tanned – but “in a hurry” is not one of them.
“I guess you’ll find that I don’t lean very hard toward running early 2-year-olds, or even sprinters for that matter,” Matz said. “I don’t know if it’s a fault of mine or what, but I do sort of enjoy having horses in two-turn races. Then again, maybe I’m just not that good at it.”
The record says Matz should stick with his comfort zone. In the 15 years since he turned from his show-jumping career to training Thoroughbred race horses, he has somehow managed to win a Kentucky Derby, a Florida Derby, a Belmont, an Arlington Million, and a Breeders’ Cup Distaff, among others.
“I do know when I look for yearlings at sales I look for horses who will go a distance,” Matz noted. “In the end, the horse will tell you what it wants to do, and you just have to work that way.”
Colonial Flag told Matz she was not ready to run until January 2012, when she came out in a maiden race on the Gulfstream Park grass. The filly had enough trouble to discourage an older horse that day, so Matz took a step back and did not run her again until April at Keeneland, where she edged the equally promising Centre Court from the Rusty Arnold barn.
Those two tangled again in the nine-furlong Regret, when Centre Court held off Colonial Flag to win by a length. The Matz filly showed her lack of seasoning that day, overreacting at one point deep in the stretch when she shied from her opponent’s proximity. But there was no quit in Colonial Flag, and the two fillies shaded 36 seconds for their final three-eighths of a mile.
“She’s a very nice filly to be around,” Matz said. “We’ve had the American Oaks in mind for her for some time.”
As for Union Rags, Matz had spent the previous two days dealing with the hard facts of a minor injury with major implications, much like the one that retired dual classic winner I’ll Have Another.
“He has an old splint on that leg,” Matz said, referring to the growing pain type of ailment Union Rags had at the end of his 2-year-old campaign. “There was a little fluid, so we gave him some bute to see if he might have banged it. The next day it was completely normal, so I didn’t think it was anything. Then when it filled up a little again I said let’s do an ultrasound.
“What we came up with is a very small core lesion,” Matz continued. “Where it is in the suspensory ligament doesn’t affect any of the branches. All of the veterinarians said the prognosis is good for him to come back. They are saying six months, at the longest, and he could start jogging again.”
No decision will be made right away about Union Rags making a comeback, but Matz has already cast his vote. As far as the trainer was concerned, the sky was the limit for the colt, whose 2012 dance card included the Haskell Invitational, the Travers, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“I was sure looking forward to at least trying him in those races,” Matz said. “I truly hope there is a chance we’ll see him as a 4-year-old. As big and as strong as he is, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be a very good older horse.”
Doug, I agree with you. I always look forward to Mikey Beers insight. He is very smart, and takes hard stances, especially when he see's a low priced horse with some holes in it. Dan Ellman is partner is very good too, but Beers too me really can paint a good picture, and his a nice pulse on racing. With the scratch of #5, I would expect Colonial Flag to go off around 3-1. She schooled in the paddack today, I like her upside moving forward. I also think Maraja is just fine, I did't like Leproux ride last time at Churchill. Take a look at Race & at Delware on saturday, a nice G2 turf event.
I went backand listen to MIKE BEARS : honestly , everything ike mentioned in his Video - AbsolutelyPure Honesty A great Input - right to the point Actually - the odds on MISS CATO will be at least 12 - 1 . I believe maybe even 18 - 1 maybe or higher . Yarmouth race April 10th was their deciding moment reguarding this race for Amercan Oaks . This Filly has never ran in a GRADED RACE - im very aare of this . Im very awar of the earnings of Only $25,447 - I know thats a lauging matter its-self reguarding this fine filly . It just doesnt seem so - huh ! How a filly can look so promising - yet - the Handicap Earnings are so low . "IF" Matz and Sadler seem very concern reguarding this filly - then I believe its very deserving to pay "Close" attention .
Jay Hovdey : I absolutely am looking forward to watching this race . For nearly three months now ( #7 Miss Cato ) has been pointed towards this race in the States . I realize #2 Lady of Shamrock will be a solid favorite with her late turn of foot . Also , im realizing #9 Colonial Flag will be heavy played as well from the Matz stable . It would not surprise me "At All" to see Miss Cato pull off a huge upset ! I would seriosly BANK on a very serious ( SHOW BET ) at 12-1 o 15-1 . That would be "Just As Smart" as a play as betting #2 or #9 to Win or Place . I would guess that ( Miss Cato ) would pay more to SHOW - than either of the top two picks to Win or Place . I would even go as far as "Playing" Miss Cato to Win & Place as well - but not as big as a Show ticket . If someone would ask me how I would Play a W / P / S wager off $100 - it would be $20 Win - $30 Place - $50 Show ! I am playing this race Big Time . I actually like Miss Cato to finish strong in the money at odds of maybe 12 - 1 . Even a 2 - 7 - 9 $20 straight tri . . . 2 - 9 - 7 $20 straight tri . . . 2 - 7 - ALL . . . 2 - ALL - 7 . . . Hey : maybe even a 7 - 2 - all !
Knowing P W : I dont really see that happening . She had a vision for this colt - and now that vision has gone to the way side . I truly believe P W loves this colt way too much to see anything happen to Union Rags . She lost him ONCE already , and it cost her dearly to get him back . This next time "There are things that money cant by" ! Its actually a tough call on some of the connections behalf . Depends whom you ask - and in all Honesty - Matz knows whats best - Brette knows what is best - but P W has the final say .
I'm crossing my fingers that this beautiful boy will be back! Get well soon Rags! We miss you already!
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