As Union Rags prepares for a run in the Nov. 5 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), his owner/breeder Phyllis Wyeth took some time to reflect on the horse’s fairytale-like story, comparing it to that of the great Seabiscuit.
“It just goes to show that a good horse can come out of nowhere,” said Wyeth of the son of Dixie Union, who is her only horse in training. Trained by Michael Matz, Union Rags is undefeated in three career starts, including the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special (gr. II) and the Oct. 8 Champagne Stakes (gr. I). He will likely be the morning-line favorite in the BC Juvenile.
As a baby, Union Rags’ lackadaisical personality was reminiscent of Seabiscuit, whose early trainer initially dismissed him as a quality racehorse because of his lazy tendencies.
"Union Rags was dead quiet as a foal,” said Wyeth. “He wouldn’t even get up after he ate his breakfast to go out to the field. My groom had to get on him as a baby… he even rode him in from the field before he was broken. He was a wonderful horse to be around and was no trouble as he turned into a (racehorse). He was easy to handle; absolutely wonderful, any kid could come up to him.”
Wyeth sold Union Rags at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton August sale for $145,000, but quickly regretted her decision and bought him back at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old sale for nearly triple the price ($390,000).
“My accountant told me I was losing too much money and I had to sell more, so that’s why I originally sold him,” explained Wyeth who lives on her family’s Lookout Farm, which straddles the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Wyeth, who races Union Rags in the name of her Chadds Ford Stable, said after she sold the colt, his dam, Tempo, had experienced some hemorrhaging problems. “I realized I couldn’t get another foal out of her, and I felt like I had sold the best of my mother’s breeding program (in Union Rags), said Wyeth. “I didn’t even know if he could run yet, but I had a fit and said, ‘I have to have this colt back.’ ”
It’s easy to understand why Wyeth didn’t want to let Union Rags go after examining his family’s deep rooted history.
Union Rags’ third dam, 1996 English One Thousand Guineas winner Glad Rags II, was owned by Wyeth’s parents and later became a foundation mare for their Hickory Tree Farm. Union Rags’ granddam, Terpsichorist, was also a grade II winner, and after being bred to Wyeth’s father’s grade I-winner Gone West, the resulting foal was Union Rags’ dam Tempo.
Wyeth decided to breed Tempo to Dixie Union because of the potential of Union Rags' full brother Geefour. “He's a really good-looking horse,” said Wyeth of Geefour, who was stakes-placed and earned nearly $160,000. “He had a breathing problem, but he would have been a stakes horse. So we wanted to go back to Dixie Union again.”
Union Rags, the result of that second mating between Tempo and Dixie Union, may have come from modest beginnings, but the colt has quickly made a name for himself on the road to the Breeders’ Cup. It’s the perfect example of how even the smallest of breeders have a chance at stardom.