04/10/2017 10:42AM

Sparkman: Union Rags makes the grade

Shigeki Kikkawa
Paradise Woods, by Union Rags, romps in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

More than any other horse of his generation, Union Rags embodied the traditional markers for success at stud. A Grade 1 winner at 2 who missed winning a championship by only a head and a classic winner at 3, he possessed the high-class pedigree and outstanding physique breeders look for when he retired to Lane’s End at a $35,000 initial fee in 2013.

Breeders’ faith was quickly rewarded when he sired two Grade 1 winners in his first crop of 2-year-olds last year, and he added a third last Saturday when his Paradise Woods crushed the field by almost a dozen lengths in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

Union Strike (out of Classic Strike, by Smart Strike) was the first to hit the target, winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, but Dancing Rags (Home Court, by Storm Cat) followed up soon after in the Grade 1 Alcibiades. Earlier this winter, Tequilita (Sangrita, by Mr. Greeley) became Union Rags’s third stakes winner with her victory in the Grade 2 Forward Gal. Paradise Woods is the fourth among the 106 foals in his first crop, but she will surely not be the last.

Union Rags’s son Patch (Windyindy, by A.P. Indy) ran a close second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in only his third start, and No Dozing (Stay Awake, by Pulpit) was second in last year’s Remsen, so it shouldn’t be long before a colt joins those four fillies as a stakes winner by Union Rags.

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Union Rags was bred in Kentucky by Phyllis Wyeth, who sold him for $145,000 to IAEH Stable at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, but, famously, almost immediately suffered seller’s remorse. Wyeth bought her homebred back for $390,000 six months later at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training and sent him to trainer Michael Matz.

Though he stands 17 hands, Union Rags was precocious enough to win his first start over five furlongs at Delaware Park on July 12, 201l, and followed up quickly with wide-margin victories in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 1 Champagne. That made him an even-money favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he was drawn wide and could never get anywhere close to the rail. Five wide into the stretch but less than two lengths behind the pacesetter, Hansen, Union Rags wandered even wider at midstretch before finally closing late within a head of the winner. Union Rags had lost far more ground than the margin of victory, but Hansen won the Eclipse award.

Union Rags won the Fountain of Youth in his first start at 3, but disappointed when third in the Florida Derby and lost all chance at the start of the Kentucky Derby when squeezed back to last and then impeded again at halfway before closing wide to finish seventh. He redeemed himself in the Belmont, stalking the pace of Paynter before finally wearing him down by a neck.

A suspensory injury made the Belmont Union Rags’s final start, but his pedigree was the best of the top colts of his generation. His sire, Dixie Union, ranked just below the top tier of stallions, and his dam, Tempo, by Gone West, was a half-sister to stakes winner Marry Me Do, by Blushing Groom, out of multiple graded winner Terpsichorist, by Nijinsky II.

Terpsichorist and her Group 2-winning full brother Gorytus were the best produce of Irish 1000 Guineas winner Glad Rags, by High Hat, a mare Wyeth’s parents, Alice (DuPont) and James P. Mills, had purchased in the 1970s. Union Rags’s half-sister Tempo West, by Rahy, has since produced European topweight Declaration of War, by War Front.

Paradise Woods, who was bred in Kentucky by Herman Sarkowsky and races for Sarkowsky and Marty and Pam Wygod, is the fifth foal and second stakes winner out of the unraced Forest Wildcat mare Wild Forest. Her second foal Forest Chatter, by Dixie Chatter, won the restricted California Flag Stakes. Wild Forest was sold for $85,000 to Royal Oak Farm at the 2015 Keeneland January sale and has since produced a yearling filly by Blame and was bred to Palace Malice in 2016.

Wild Forest is half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner Tajaaweed, by Dynaformer, out of the unplaced Zilzal mare Uforia, a half-sister to the outstanding sire Mr. Greeley, by Gone West, and to stakes winner Majestic Legend, by His Majesty, the granddam of champion 2-year-old male and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, by Street Cry.

Paradise Woods’s fourth dam is French champion sprinter Lianga, by Dancer’s Image.