Chadds Ford Stable’s Union Rags turned in a sharp half-mile work April 28 and galloped out so strongly the clockers gave him a five-furlong work in :59 4/5. Jockey Julien Leparoux was aboard the son of Dixie Union in his preparation for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Trainer Michael Matz said earlier in the morning that Union Rags was going to work a half mile, but he expected him to gallop out very strong, in much the same manner as Barbaro did in his final
Union Rags, working by himself, was timed in fractions of :12, and :23 3/5, then came home his final quarter in :23 3/5 to complete the half-mile in :47 1/5. He switched over to his left lead just as he hit the wire and then “galloped out” his next eighth in :12 3/5 and pulled up after six furlongs in 1:13 4/5.
“We wanted him to have a strong work here,” Matz said. “That was the plan all along. We wanted to turn the screws a little tighter. He broke from the half-mile pole, and I just told Julien to let him gallop out. I wish I could have seen it; all I caught was the last quarter mile."
Matz said his view was blocked in part because runners involved in a pre-Derby marathon made it difficult to get to the front side of the track.
"Julien said he liked the track and galloped out real strong. That was the plan, to do it a week ahead of time and give him some time to recover. The gods were good and didn’t rain on us, so now it’s up to him. We’re right on track for next Saturday.
“It’s a great feeling to be back here after six years (since Barbaro's victory), especially with a horse who has a good chance. It doesn’t happen too often. I was lucky enough once and it’s hard to believe you can get lucky twice.”
Leparoux added, “The track wasn’t too good; it was deep and dry, but he handled it well. He was going very strong from the eighth pole to the wire. I let him go after the wire, and he just kept going.”
Union Rags, who looks spectacular physically and has grown into quite an imposing specimen. comes into the Derby off a third-place finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I), beaten by 1 1/4 lengths with a less than ideal trip. Despite that loss, Matz said he would not trade places with any other trainer of a Derby contender this year.
Previous to the Florida Derby, Union Rags won the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) in his first start since finishing second by a head to champion Hansen in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
''I think each horse has its own different characteristics and it just suited us this year that he had a stronger 2-year-old year than Barbaro did and he had less races as a 3-year-old,'' Matz said. ''We felt two races was enough for him to get to the Derby and you know, that's what we felt.
''Whether it's right or wrong, we'll see.''