03/10/2012 1:09PM

Union Rags, Animal Kingdom get maintenance works at Palm Meadows

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Barbara D. Livingston
Union Rags will likely be a heavy favorite to win the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Animal Kingdom, the reigning Kentucky Derby champion, and Union Rags, currently the favorite to win this year’s Derby, both turned in easy maintenance works at Palm Meadows on Saturday morning.

Union Rags hit the track at his customary time before 7 a.m. and breezed an easy half-mile in 50.76 seconds under regular exercise rider Peter Brett. Union Rags broke off approximately four lengths behind a stablemate, according to Palm Meadows clocker Bryan Walls, and finished a length in front while in hand to the wire. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.40.

The work was the first for Union Rags since his dominant victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth two weeks earlier.

“He just stretched his legs a little, it was just a maintenance work,” trainer Michael Matz said. “He sat behind another horse, they finished together, and he galloped out real well.”

Matz said he’d probably bring Union Rags back for a little longer work next weekend.

“He doesn’t need to do much, we’re right on schedule,” Matz said. “He came out of his last race real well, he’s acting good, and I’m pretty much just biding my time until the next one. Waiting to go is the hardest part of the process right now.”

Union Rags will be the heavy favorite to win the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31.

Animal Kingdom had to wait another three hours, until the turf course opened, before being able to strut his stuff. Like Union Rags, Animal Kingdom also broke off behind a stablemate, Badleroixbrown, and completed five-eighths in 1:04.80 with a final furlong in 11.60. His regular exercise rider, David Nava, was aboard.

Animal Kingdom, an easy allowance winner here last month, will make his next start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.

“Everything went fine, it was just a maintenance work coming off his last race,” trainer Graham Motion said. “They set off a little slow, which is the reason the final time wasn’t that fast, and they stayed about five or six paths off the rail, which seemed like the best place to be. In an ideal world, I’d like to have gone a second or so faster, but I think it worked out fine. He’ll have a little more serious work next week before he leaves, six or possibly even seven furlongs.”