10/27/2016 11:26AM

Union Rags making a statement with his first-crop juveniles

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Barbara D. Livingston
In his first year as a stallion, Union Rags has sired 11 winners who have won more than $1 million.

Phyllis Wyeth liked the strapping, white-faced colt delivered by her mare Tempo in the spring of 2009. The new arrival represented the fourth generation of Thoroughbreds in a line her family had cultivated since 1964, when her late mother, Alice du Pont Mills, had purchased a mare.

Wyeth intended to keep the colt and race him in the colors of her Chadds Ford Stable, but her accountant advised her to sell him to bolster her stable’s tax standing as a business, not a hobby.

So, Wyeth reluctantly sold the Dixie Union colt for $145,000 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale. But she was struck with such nagging seller’s remorse that she sent her bloodstock adviser and friend, Russell Jones, on a mission to purchase him back at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training. She paid more than twice as much, the hammer falling at $390,000.

But Union Rags has been paying Wyeth back ever since.

Union Rags became Wyeth’s first Grade 1 winner as a juvenile and went on to take the 2012 Belmont Stakes to redeem himself for a frustrating spring campaign. Now standing in Kentucky, he has broken the nation’s freshman sire race open heading into the Breeders’ Cup, where he will be represented by Grade 1-winning daughters Dancing Rags, owned by Wyeth, and Union Strike in the Juvenile Fillies.

“I knew, I had a dream,” the media-shy Wyeth said in her only interview following the Belmont Stakes. “I knew he would make it.”

Union Rags, standing at Lane’s End Farm, was represented by 11 winners from 40 first-crop starters through Wednesday for progeny earnings of $1,008,254. That bankroll not only puts him atop the freshman list by a wide margin over Gemologist ($780,755) and Dialed In ($719,399), it is good enough to crack the top 10 of the overall juvenile sire list against established stallions.

“You obviously hope that one gets off to a start like he has,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End. “It’s rare that you get two Grade 1 winners in the first 2-year-old crop like this. I don’t think any of us figured that it was vital it happened this way, but he was a good 2-year-old himself, so it’s not surprising that it’s happened. But at the same time, it didn’t have to happen for him to be successful. [We believe] that a lot of his best ones will be coming up as 3-year-olds.”

Although Wyeth supported Union Rags with mares, Dancing Rags was bred by David DiPietro in Maryland. She was an $80,000 Keeneland September yearling, and Wyeth picked her up as a $210,000 pinhook this year at the OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Wyeth boards her mares and raises her young horses at Damien and Braxton Lynch’s Royal Oak Farm in Paris, Ky., where Union Rags was foaled. Braxton Lynch has thus had the chance to evaluate Union Rags’s offspring against their sire and liked what she saw from Dancing Rags.

“[Union Rags] was a beautiful foal, just a stunning foal,” Lynch said. “As you can tell, he grew into a stunning stallion as well. He was as easy to deal with as any horse we’ve ever been around; he was just kind and easy.

“Most of [his offspring] have a lot of size like he does. They’re just very well put together. [Dancing Rags] is very similar to the type that he throws.”

Dancing Rags is based with trainer Graham Motion at the idyllic Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, where Union Rags also was based with trainer Michael Matz. The filly showed interest when rallying for third in her debut at 5 1/2 furlongs over the summer, and added distance turned out to be the ticket: She won by 1 3/4 lengths going a mile at next asking Sept. 17 at Laurel.

Motion is conservative with his young horses, but the filly’s training off her maiden victory convinced him that she was ready to step up. Dancing Rags didn’t throw away her shot, stalking the pace and kicking on to win the Alcibiades Stakes by a length Oct. 7 at Keeneland, giving Motion his first Grade 1 win with a 2-year-old.

“She just seemed to have done really well since her maiden win at Laurel and progressively kept improving,” Motion said. “This is the time of year when you’ve got to take a shot.”

The other Grade 1 winner for Union Rags is Union Strike, who won her maiden in the Del Mar Debutante, her second start, on Sept. 3. She is owned by Mick Ruis, who purchased her for $375,000 at the OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training.

“Mick and [his wife] Wendy have put a lot of money into the game in a short period of time,” said Craig Dollase, who took over the training of Union Strike after Mick ended his business relationship with his daughter, trainer Shelbe Ruis. “With my years of experience and horsemanship, I hope that keeps the ship rolling. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”