Union Rags signaled his readiness for next Sunday’s Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park when he breezed four furlongs in :48 4/5 Feb. 19 at Palm Meadows Training Center.
The Michael Matz-trained 3-year-old colt broke from the starting gate shortly after 7 a.m.
“He did it easy and galloped out fine,” said Matz, who trains the colt for Phyllis M. Wyeth. “He’s ready to go. Other than running in a race, he’s as ready as he could possibly be.”
Union Rags last year captured the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and the Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) and finished second in Eclipse Award balloting. He hasn’t run since suffering his first loss in four career starts in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5.
His trainer designed the gate workout, as well as other schooling sessions in the starting gate, to stoke the competitive spirit in the son of Dixie Union out of the Gone West mare Tempo.
“We’ve stood him a couple times in the gate,” Matz said. “We wanted to pop him out today and we’ll stand him in the gate again on Thursday, and then he should be ready to go. He’s going to be running against horses that have been racing and he hasn’t raced since November. He’s a big, quiet horse, so I thought a little reminder wouldn’t hurt.”
Julien Leparoux is to ride Union Rags for the first time, replacing Javier Castellano, who opted to ride Algorithms in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.
Matz’s longtime assistant Peter Brett was aboard Union Rags the morning of Feb. 19, subbing for Leparoux, who rode Daddy Nose Best to victory in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields a day earlier. Leparoux's return flight wasn’t scheduled to land until 8:15 a.m.
“He said if I wanted to make it at 9, he’d try to make it,” said Matz, who decided to go ahead with the workout as planned. “I said, ‘If you want to gallop him, come up any time to gallop him.’ ”