Chadds Ford Stable's Union Rags improved mightily off a debut maiden score at Delaware Park and splashed to a 7 1/4-length victory in Monday's Grade 2, Saratoga Special, proving upwardly mobile in more ways than one. As a Michael Matz trainee, the unbeaten juvenile colt would inevitably draw comparisons to Barbaro, but he also inspired jockey Javier Castellano to mention him in the same breath as Ghostzapper and Bernardini.
"I'll keep my fingers crossed that he's going to be a superhorse," enthused Castellano, who thanked his agent Matt Muzikar for convincing him to work Union Rags at Saratoga last Tuesday, and was dazzled by his bullet half-mile in :47 3/5.
"I've never worked a horse like that, and I've been very fortunate to ride horses like Ghostzapper and Bernardini. I've been a very lucky, fortunate guy, but this horse is unbelievable and special."
"After you have a horse like Barbaro," Matz said, "your standard is pretty high. I just hope he could be as good, that's for sure."
Moreover, aside from the prestige of dominating an historic test for juveniles, Union Rags gained some more tangible compensation -- the $90,000 share of the original listed purse of $150,000, plus a $200,000 bonus dubbed the Fasig-Tipton Juvenile Jackpot, for the first graduate of the 2010 Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale to capture a graded stakes during the 2011 Spa season. In light of his hitting the Jackpot, the total value of the Saratoga Special was boosted to $350,000.
Union Rags was bonus-eligible by virtue of his sale to IEAH Stables for $145,000 at Saratoga last August. The bay son of Dixie Union was resold at the Fasig-Florida Florida Sale in March, bringing $390,000 from Chadds Ford Stable. In fact, he was coming full circle, for his breeder Phyllis Wyeth races in the name of Chadds Ford.
Unlike his first start, where he raced several lengths off the pace, Union Rags was part of a crowded scramble for the lead in his stakes debut. The rail-drawn Union Rags was flanked by 8-5 favorite Stat, with Indian Evening and Trinniberg abreast. Italo briefly made it five across the track in the opening strides, but couldn't keep up and fell progressively farther behind.
Stat had his head in front after an opening quarter in :21 3/5 on the sloppy, sealed track. As Union Rags got the upper hand when reaching the half in :45 2/5, their other pace rivals were already beating a retreat. Banner Bill, who had been last of the six-horse field early, made a sharp move on the far turn into third. He could not sustain that momentum into the stretch, however, and flattened out.
Meanwhile, Union Rags was putting Stat away easily and soon opened up by daylight. His inexperience showed as he veered out abruptly past midstretch, appearing ready to visit the grandstand, but Castellano took corrective action to straighten the colt out. Union Rags extended his advantage inside the final sixteenth, ultimately negotiating 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18 1/5 and paying $8.50, $4 and $2.90 as the 3-1 third choice.
The rest of the field was strung out. Stat finished a clear second by three lengths, and Indian Evening crossed the wire 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Banner Bill. Trinniberg and Italo trailed.
"After working him in the morning, I was so confident today," Castellano said. "I didn't worry about the one hole at all, and for 6 1/2 furlongs, it's a tough post. For a young horse, you don't know how they'll react and plus the rain and the sloppy track, but he did it so well. He broke sharp, he was right there, he followed the other horses. It was a tight trip, but it didn't matter. He showed up today."
Castellano also offered an explanation for the colt's ducking out.
"(In the stretch) I wanted to stay off the rail a little bit and when I did that, I think he saw the screen board. Today it's dark, rainy and the light (of the board) is so bright. I think he saw the light from the board and kind of got scared a little bit and jumped. I corrected really quickly, and after that he continued to run."
"We didn't really know what he was doing," Matz said of the momentary detour. "Javier said he was looking at the screen a little bit. I was real nervous (regarding the early fractions). He said he broke well and felt like he was traveling very easily. He is the one riding, not me."
Union Rags, now two-for-two, has bankrolled $318,800. Like Barbaro, he captured his debut at Delaware, but not on turf. Union Rags started out in a five-furlong dash, rolling to a 1 3/4-length score.
The Kentucky-bred is out of the winning Gone West mare Tempo, making him a full brother to the stakes-placed Geefour. Union Rags is also a half-brother to the winning Tempo West, the dam of French stakes hero Vertiformer and current stakes-placed sophomore War Pact.
With his second dam being Grade 2 queen Terpischorist, Union Rags hails from the family of Grade 2 winner Satans Quick Chick and Grade 3 victress Pratella, the dam of multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Angliana.
Terpsichorist is herself a full sister to English Group 2 hero Gorytus. They were produced by 1965 Irish champion juvenile filly *Glad Rags II, winner of the following year's One Thousand Guineas. Other Glad Rags descendants include classic-winning millionaire Colonial Affair, victor of the 1993 Belmont Stakes and 1994 Whitney and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Matz is optimistic about the colt's future.
"He's a very sensible colt," the horseman said. "He worked here last week and worked like a real good horse. When he worked so well we expected him to run well, and if he doesn't you say, 'What did I do wrong?'
"He proved he is a good horse, and I'm really excited about him. Phyllis, the owner, is a great person. She has had a lot of horses for me, and she told me that one day she would get me a good one. Hopefully we have it.
"We don't know (where he could run next). We'll get him back at the barn and see what we look like, speak with the owners and see what we want to do. Obviously our main goal is for next year, but we'll just have to see how he is and look for something in about a month or five weeks."