Updated on 04/12/2012 1:21PM

Kentucky Derby: Union Rags puts in final Florida work; heading to Kentucky this weekend

Tom Keyser
Union Rags will ship to Keeneland on Saturday evening.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – Union Rags had the first of his final three works leading up to the Kentucky Derby, and his last before departing his winter home at Palm Meadows, when breezing an easy but visually impressive half-mile in 48.32 seconds shortly after dawn Thursday.

With regular exercise rider Peter Brette aboard, Union Rags appeared to be a bit of a handful as he entered the backstretch but settled in nicely once leaving the half-mile pole. Union Rags, who finished a troubled third as the heavy favorite in the Grade 1 Florida Derby 12 days earlier, posted splits of 12:51, 24.51, and 36.53 for the opening three furlongs before completing his final eighth in 11.79 and galloping out five furlongs in a solid 1:01.59 over a track that was not playing extremely fast Thursday.

“Peter said he was very happy with the way he went, that he really couldn’t have gone any better,” said trainer Michael Matz who was at Keeneland on Thursday. “He said he just really let him gallop out only another eighth of a mile, he didn’t want to let him do too much in his first work back since the race.”

Union Rags is scheduled to board a van for Lexington on Saturday evening and arrive at Keeneland the following morning. He will have two more works in Kentucky prior to the Derby, although, at the moment, Matz said he is uncertain if both those works will come at Churchill Downs or the first at Keeneland sometime next weekend.

“I was originally planning on working him Friday, but Peter said ‘Do you know it’s the 13th?’ I guess he’s a little superstitious,” Matz said with a laugh. “But moving his work up a day to this morning is fine, because now he can walk on Friday then jog Saturday before getting on the van later in the day.”

Matz said he’ll play things day by day before deciding upon where or when Union Rags would work next.

“It will be sometime next weekend, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, depending upon several factors including the weather,” Matz said. “His next one will be a longer version of today’s maintenance breeze. I’ll put a little more speed into him at Churchill Downs in his final work prior to the Derby.”

Union Rags, who many figure will still go postward the favorite in the Derby, was followed about 20 minutes later by the likely favorite in this year’s Kentucky Oaks, Grace Hall, who also turned in an easy half-mile maintenance breeze over the nearly deserted racetrack.

With regular exercise rider Carol Fisher aboard, Grace Hall was timed in 12.76 and  24.60 for her opening two furlongs then completed her final quarter in 24.26 while never extended before galloping out five-eighths in 1:02.19.

Unlike Union Rags, Grace Hall will continue to train at Palm Meadows, where she’ll have her final two preps for the Oaks before departing for Churchill Downs on May 1.

“Carol said she couldn’t have been happier with the way the filly went this morning,” trainer Tony Dutrow said by phone from New York. “She’ll stay down there for her final two works then fly to Kentucky with Todd Pletcher’s arsenal. She’s been doing so well at Palm Meadows, I don’t want to touch it and change anything right now.”

Joining Union Rags and Grace Hall on the track shortly after 7 a.m. were three other potential Kentucky Derby starters – Wood winner Gemologist, Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, and Risen Star winner El Padrino, all of whom were out for routine gallops.

El Padrino, currently 23rd on the graded earnings list, will work Sunday trainer Pletcher confirmed.

“We’ll know a lot more about his status for the Derby after Saturday’s races,” Pletcher said. “At the moment, we’re going to continue to train him as if he’s going to run in the Derby. If he doesn’t make it in, he’ll run in the Preakness.”