10/12/2011 4:19PM

Philadelphia region produces another star horse

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Barbara D. Livingston
The owner of Champagne winner Union Rags has a farm in Chester County, Pa., southwest of Philadelphia.

Apparently, the racing gods have decided it’s quite long enough for Philadelphia and its suburbs not to have had a serious Kentucky Derby contender. That really was Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Barbaro winning five of seven Triple Crown races from 2004 to 2006, coming within two lengths of consecutive Triple Crowns.

So, the racing gods have given this 21st century racing mecca Union Rags, the unbeaten winner of the Champagne Stakes. If Union Rags wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (and if his Champagne win was any indication, he will win it), he will be named 2-year-old champion, something Smarty and Barbaro (both started too late) or Afleet Alex (how about a revote?) did not get.

Phyllis Wyeth owns Union Rags. Her farm is not far from Barbaro’s owners’ (Roy and Gretchen Jackson) Lael Farm in Chester County, southwest of the city.

Union Rags is trained by Michael Matz at Fair Hill, the same idyllic spot in the northeast corner of Maryland where Matz gave Barbaro his early lessons and where this year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, was just returned to training by Graham Motion.

So, there is precedent here.

Speaking of precedent, can somebody explain how last Saturday’s Jamaica Handicap is a Grade 1 and the Cotillion at Parx is a Grade 2.
Even if Philadelphia were not the center of the Triple Crown universe, this would still be stupid. The Jamaica has a $250,000 purse for 3-year-olds on grass. Somebody might be able to name a memorable recent winner. I can’t. Nor did I try.

Last year’s Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies, with its $750,000 purse, featured Havre de Grace holding off Blind Luck. This year, Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty beat two-time Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky. A third Grade 1 winner, Buster’s Ready, was in the field.

This isn’t some slot-infused purse that does not attract really good horses. This is a race with a very good tradition that is the final race for 3-year-old fillies before the Breeders’ Cup. Careless Jewel won it in 2009. Seattle Smooth upset Proud Spell in 2008. Ashado won it in 2004.
Going back to the 1970s, it was won by Susan’s Girl, My Juliet, and Revidere.

The Cotillion really looks like the female version of the Arkansas Derby, a top race that is not taken seriously enough by the people who determine race grades.

The Arkansas Derby finally got its deserved Grade 1 status. The Cotillion should be next. And soon.

Anybody else want to see a race with Black Caviar, Frankel, and Rapid Redux on Breeders’ Cup weekend at Churchill Downs?

What exactly is going on with all these winning streaks?

Smarty Jones nearly got through the Triple Crown unbeaten. Peppers Pride never lost. Zenyatta never lost – until the end.
Now, these three.

Rapid Redux is going for 18 straight Friday night at Charles Town. The 5-year-old is 15 for 15 in 2011. Are there any other American horses that have run 15 times this year?

I watched Black Caviar’s race from Australia last weekend. The 5-year-old mare, now unbeaten in 14 career starts with earnings of nearly $4 million, is ridiculous. I know nothing about the competition, but any horse that wins every time at five furlongs and six furlongs on grass and dominates so completely surely is deserving of her national hero status in the country where she was bred.

Would love to see her in the 2012 Turf Monster at Parx on Labor Day. Probably would not get much of a price. She was 2-1 in her debut and has been odds-on in every race since.

Black Caviar and Frankel are locked up in some mythical duel for best horse in the world. Not sure how you compare a sprinting mare in Australia with a miler in Britain, but it might be nice to see them hook up at seven furlongs.

I have watched several of Frankel’s races. The colt not only has devastating early speed, he also has the amazing Euro acceleration that always blows American grass horses away.

Frankel goes for his ninth win without a loss Saturday at Ascot in the Queen Elizabeth II. Don’t know anything about the conditions or the opposition. But I like Frankel. Like the mare, he has been odds-on in every start since an 8-5 win in his debut.

It is comforting this colt with rare talent is so honoring the great trainer’s name.

It did not work out that well with the Cal-bred Frankel. A son of Tinner’s Way, Frankel did not win in six starts.

So, Frankel and Rapid Redux this weekend, then Black Caviar back in a few weeks and Philly back in the horse picture. So what if the Eagles can’t win and the best team in Phillies history could not get out of the first round of the playoffs? All is pretty much right with the world.