Union Rags, the early favorite for Grade 1 Florida Derby, went to the track at Palm Meadows Saturday morning for an easy five-furlong workout in preparation for Gulfstream Park's signature race on March 31.
The three-year-old son of Dixie Union, who made an auspicious 2012 debut in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on February 26, covered the distance in 1:04 1/5 under jockey Julien Leparoux.
"It was just a maintenance work. He didn't go that fast, but Julien said he did everything he wanted him to do," trainer Michael Matz said from Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Boynton Beach, Florida. "He'll work a half-mile next week, and we'll be ready to go."
Union Rags cemented his standing as the early favorite for the May 5 Kentucky Derby by capturing the Fountain of Youth by four lengths with little encouragement from Leparoux.
The Kentucky-bred colt established himself as a serious prospect for the 2012 Triple Crown last year when he won his first three races, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 1 Champagne Stakes. He suffered his first loss in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, falling a head short of catching Hansen after enduring an extremely wide trip.
Another possible entrant for the Florida Derby made the Palm Meadows work tab Saturday morning. Alpha, who will run in either the Florida Derby or the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who registered his 1,000th career victory on Friday.
By Bernardini, Alpha opened 2012 with easy wins in the Count Fleet Stakes and Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.
Grade 3 runner-up Take Charge Indy breezed five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 at Palm Meadows for trainer Pat Byrne. Scratched from last Saturday's Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, the dark bay colt is being kept on edge for a start in the $1 million Florida Derby, a race his connections hope will earn him a start in the Kentucky Derby.
"He worked really well as usual," Byrne said. "He'll have one more maintenance work next Saturday or Sunday and we're ready to go. He's doing great. I wish the race was next week. The track was not fast this morning."
Exercise rider Frank Todd was aboard for the workout and Byrne confirmed Calvin Borel as his rider for the Florida Derby.
A regally-bred son of A.P. Indy out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, Take Charge Indy ran a very good second to El Padrino in a 1 1/16 miles allowance race at Gulfstream on January 29 in his first start since a very respectable fifth-place finish in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
Byrne removed him from the Tampa Bay Derby due to his outside draw in post 10.
"I think it was the right decision," the trainer explained. "That can be a funny race track to ship and run over the first time, and then as the race turned out the horses that ran one-two (Prospective and Golden Ticket) came out of the one and two posts. I'm comfortable with where we are. We've got a million reasons (Florida Derby purse) to go this way."