08/16/2011 2:19PM

Saratoga: Matz thinks highly of his juveniles

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Barbara D. Livingston
Union Rags came out of his Saratoga Special win in good shape and could run in the Champagne.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Ever since Barbaro gave him the biggest victory of his career in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, trainer Michael Matz has been looking for the horse that could take him back to North America’s most prestigious horse race.

Though his decade-long association with Roy and Gretchen Jackson – the owners of Barbaro – ended about a month ago, Matz may have the best crop of 2-year-olds he’s had in several years. Union Rags stepped to the top of that list – at least temporarily – with an emphatic 7 1/4-length victory in Monday’s Grade 2 Saratoga Special over an extremely sloppy Saratoga main track.

Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union, won for the second time in as many starts, having taken his debut at Delaware Park at a five-furlong distance Matz thought would be too short for him. Union Rags relished the 6 1/2-furlongs of the Saratoga Special and won despite drifting out in midstretch. Matz said jockey Javier Castellano told him he believes the horse shied away from the bright lights of the infield tote board.

“Once he straightened out, he went pretty nicely,” Matz said. “And he galloped out fine after that.”

Union Rags ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.33 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

“I was really pleased with him, I think he’s a real nice horse,” Matz said Tuesday morning as he was driving back to his base at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. “I hope this is just one step down the road. The best thing about him is he’s got a terrific disposition.”

Union Rags was initially sold by his breeder Phyllis Wyeth as a yearling for $145,000. In February, Wyeth bought the horse back at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old-in training sale at Palm Meadows for $390,000.

Matz said Union Rags won’t run back in the Grade 1 Hopeful here Sept. 5 because he believes that race is too close to the Special. Union Rags also was on his way back to Fair Hill on Tuesday, but could return to New York for the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont on Oct. 8. The Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland also is possible.

Union Rags was the third 2-year-old winner of the meet for Matz. On Sunday, he won a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden race with the filly Welcome Dance. On Aug. 7, he won a maiden race with the first-time starter And Why Not, a $775,000 daughter of Street Cry owned by Helen Groves, Matz’s mother-in-law. Matz said And Why Not is a candidate for the Grade 1 Spinaway here Sept. 4.

Matz has a few more colts that he is looking forward to running this year, though it’s unclear whether they will make this meet. Chief Bendabout is a son of Indian Charlie who is only up to breezing three furlongs. Arabian Spirit is a son of Grade 1 winners A.P. Indy and Wild Spirit whose last two breezes have been out of the gate at Fair Hill. Matz also trains an Awesome Again colt he likes.

“Last year, I only had three colts, I wasn’t getting the 2-year-olds,” Matz said. “This year, I have a couple that I think are quite nice.”

Unfortunately, Matz doesn’t have any horses for the Jacksons, who race under the name Lael Stable. Matz said he ran his last horse for the Jacksons about four weeks ago.

“I got fired; they said it was a business decision,” Matz said. “My wife [Deedee] – and thank God for her – said things happen for a reason; sometimes one door closes and another door opens.”