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Union Rags has clockers reaching for superlatives
Early Kentucky Derby favorite Union Rags turned in a superb breeze in company at Palm Meadows on Saturday, to the delight of veteran work watchers Mike Welsch and Bruno De Julio.
With assistant trainer/exercise rider Peter Brett in the saddle, the Grade 1 star inhaled his two workmates while covering a half-mile in :49 on the fast main track, in his final major move in advance of next Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby.
"Union Rags SUPER," Daily Racing Form's Welsch tweeted, adding that the colt broke four lengths behind his companions, but stormed eight lengths clear.
Welsch caught Union Rags galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 and posting a sensational final quarter in :24.
De Julio reported via Twitter that he timed the son of Dixie Union in :48 1/5, with a gallop-out of 1:00 3/5, and also raved about his "huge final quarter."
After noting that Union Rags "looked awesome blowing by" his mates, De Julio later tweeted that the move "was an historical work, never seen anything like it, ever. Incredible."
Trainer Michael Matz was obviously pleased with the tune-up.
"He did it the right way," Matz said. "He went out with a set that worked, and Peter just sat behind them. I just wanted to have something for him to point at.
"The other two horses worked nicely and he worked nice and galloped out really well."
The Chadds Ford Stable homebred made his 2012 debut on in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park February 26, where he finished four lengths clear while in hand under jockey Julien Leparoux.
"I think he should take a step forward from that. It didn't look like he had to give everything he had," Matz said. "I would hope that having a race under his belt would help him for the Florida Derby."
Union Rags captured his first three races, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and the Grade 1 Champagne, before finishing second, a head behind Hansen, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was forced to race extremely wide from his outside post position and was unable to overtake pacesetter Hansen.
"He had some unfortunate problems in the Breeders' Cup, which unfortunately could arise again, but right now he's more mature physically and mentally than he was as two-year-old, and I think it showed in his last race," Matz said.
Four other Florida Derby candidates posted Saturday works.
Grade 3-placed Take Charge Indy, also at Palm Meadows, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 for trainer Pat Byrne.
"It was a good maintenance work," Byrne said. "He's ready to go. It looks like the best (Kentucky Derby) prep of the year. We know it will be a tough race. Union Rags is a very good horse. I'm actually a little surprised they've got six horses likely to run against him."
A regally-bred son of A.P. Indy out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, Take Charge Indy will be making his second start of the season, as will Union Rags. In their only previous meeting, Take Charge Indy finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, beaten 6 1/4 lengths.
Take Charge Indy returned to finish a good second in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on January 29, two lengths behind Todd Pletcher-trained El Padrino, the latter going on to win the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on February 25. Take Charge Indy was entered but scratched from a start in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10 after drawing post position 10.
Jockey Calvin Borel was aboard Take Charge Indy for the first time in the allowance race last out and will fly in for the mount Saturday.
Meanwhile, at Gulfstream, Fountain of Youth runner-up News Pending covered five-eighths in 1:02 4/5 on the fast main track.
"It was slow but good," trainer Dale Romans said. "It was a perfect work."
The son of Harlan's Holiday has shown strong development at the Gulfstream meeting, which he kicked off with a maiden victory in his fourth lifetime start on December 22. He scored by a half-length in the 1 1/8-mile turf event and came right back to close from far back to finish second behind highly regarded Exothermic in an entry-level allowance on February 5.
Although no match for Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth, News Pending was clearly second best, finishing 2 1/4 lengths clear of favored third-place finisher Discreet Dancer after prompting the early pace.
"He's had a good winter here," Romans said. "He's ready to run next weekend."
Rajiv Maragh has the mount for the Florida Derby.
Over Calder's fast main track, Fort Loudon took a half-mile spin in :51. Last year's Florida Stallion Stakes sweeper has finished fourth in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and fifth in the Fountain of Youth this season.
Gulfstream Park Derby hero Reveron motored five panels in a bullet 1:00 4/5, best of 31 works at the distance at his Calder base. His three-race winning streak was snapped by a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.