Union Rags exploded out of tight quarters in upper stretch to impressively captured Saturday's $300,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, establishing himself as the likely favorite for the November 5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile while drawing off to a 5 1/4-length decision. A smashing 7 1/4-length winner of the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in his previous start, the Michael Matz pupil remained perfect in his third career outing. And the bay Dixie Union colt overcame adversity to easily prove best.
"My plan 'A' was to be close to the pace. He's a really nice horse, and you can put him wherever you want," jockey Javier Castellano said. "Unfortunately, in the first jump (Right to Vote) squeezed me. He bumped really hard, and I lost the momentum right there. Now I had to change my plan to 'B' -- come from behind horses. But he's an amazing horse -- nothing bothers him. He got dirt in the face, he was blocked all the way on the trip. I tried to wait for my best opportunity to make that move."
Following the troubled start, Union Rags rated in fifth as Power World established opening splits in :22 3/5 and :45 4/5. Right to Vote advanced to the lead entering the stretch run, passing the three-quarters point in 1:10 1/5, and Union Rags was bottled up in fourth with a quarter-mile remaining. It looked like he might try to split rivals in midstretch, but Castellano altered course and guided his mount to the outside.
Union Rags instantly responded when clear, quickly accelerating to the front, and was under wraps late.
The winner strode a mile in the Grade 1 Champagne in 1:35 2/5 on the fast track. Union Rags was favored at 6-5 over his seven rivals and returned $4.40, $2.80 and $2.20.
Alpha, a smart six-length debut winner at Saratoga in his last outing, rallied late to edge Right to Vote by a neck for second. It was another 4 1/4 lengths back to Takes the Gold in fourth, and Invocation, No Spin, Power World and Laurie's Rocket completed the official order of finish. Speightscity was scratched.
Union Rags was coming off a 54-day freshening from the August 15 Saratoga Special, which came over a sloppy oval.
"He's always acted like a nice horse from when we first got him," Matz stated. "He's trained well this period he's been off. The timing is great now (for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs).
"The seven weeks didn't hurt him between races. The (traffic) is going to happen with two-year-olds, and they find a way out of it, don't they? I think he's a real good horse. Anytime you can win going five-eighths with me, you know they're nice horses. I've had horses on and off for (owner) Mrs. (Phyllis) Wyeth, and she said to me, 'I'm going to have a good one for you,' and I think she does."
Union Rags started out in a five-furlong dash, rolling to a 1 3/4-length score at Delaware Park on July 12.
"I can't even talk. We didn't know what kind of horse we really had. I think he's good," said Wyeth, who races under the banner of Chadds Ford Stable. "We always had hopes for him, but it's really an honor, because my mother bred all the mares, and (he's) by my father's stallion. It's what they all lived to produce. It really is an honor."
Union Rags, who has won his three starts by a combined 14 1/4 lengths, has now earned $498,800. Bred in Kentucky by Wyeth, Union Rags passed through the sales ring at the 2010 Keeneland September sale, bringing a price of $145,000, before being bought back by Wyeth for $390,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida February two-year-old sale.
He 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 S. Other Glad Rags descendants include classic-winning millionaire Colonial Affair, victor of the 1993 Belmont Stakes and the 1994 editions of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup.