Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner Union Rags breezed a half-mile in company March 24 at Palm Meadows Training Center, one week prior to his expected start in the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I).
The 3-year-old son of Dixie Union, expected to be a solid favorite in Gulfstream Park's signature race at 1 1/8 miles March 31, breezed the four furlongs in :49 seconds under assistant trainer/exercise rider Peter Brett.
"He did it the right way. He went out with a set that worked, and Peter just sat behind them. I just wanted to have something for him to point at," trainer Michael Matz said. "The other two horses worked nicely and he worked nice and galloped out really well."
Chadds Ford Stable's star made his 2012 debut on Feb. 26 in the Fountain of Youth, in which he finished four lengths clear of the field while in hand under jockey Julien Leparoux.
"I think he should take a step forward from that. It didn't look like he had to give everything he had," Matz said. "I would hope that having a race under his belt would help him for the Florida Derby."
The solid favorite for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) right now, Union Rags captured his first three races, including the Saratoga Special (gr. II) and the Champagne (gr. I), before finishing second by a head in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He was forced to race extremely wide from his outside post position and was unable to overtake pacesetter Hansen.
"He had some unfortunate problems in the Breeders' Cup, which unfortunately could arise again, but right now he's more mature physically and mentally than he was as 2-year-old, and I think it showed in his last race," Matz said.
Another Florida Derby contender, Chuck and Maribeth Sandford's Take Charge Indy , breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 Saturday morning at Palm Meadows for trainer Pat Byrne in his final tune-up for the race.
"It was a good maintenance work," said Byrne. "He's ready to go. It looks like the best (Kentucky) prep of the year. We know it will be a tough race. Union Rags is a very good horse. I'm actually a little surprised they've got six horses likely to run against him."
At Gulfstream, Fountain of Youth runner-up News Pending turned in an easy five-furlong breeze. He was timed in 1:02 4/5 in preparation for the Florida Derby..
"It was slow but good," trainer Dale Romans said. "It was a perfect work."