On the morning after a thrilling Belmont Stakes victory by Union Rags June 10, trainer Michael Matz was charting a second-half campaign for the Chadds Ford Stable colorbearer.
Union Rags, who won the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special (gr. II) as a 2-year-old, could make a return appearance to Saratoga Race Course this summer, said Matz.
“At this point right now I think what we’ll do is look at some of those, whether it’s the Haskell (gr. I at Monmouth Park), the Jim Dandy (gr. II), the Travers (gr. I), whatever, one of those races down the line with a little time in between,” he said.
Matz conceded that while the newly retired I'll Have Another was clearly the leading 3-year-old off his victories over Bodemeister in the Kentucky DerbyPresented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I), he “wasn’t throwing in the towel, by any means” when it came to a second-half bid for an Eclipse Award.
“It all depends on how we finish the season,” he said. “They ran one time against each other and that was it. He was very impressive in those two races he ran with Bodemeister. Again, I was so confused with the voting last year as a 2-year-old (when Union Rags was second to Hansen), who knows what can go on?”
Union Rags departed for his stall at Fair Hill training center in Elkton, Md., several hours after his neck victory over Paynter in the Belmont Stakes. Matz reported that the son of Dixie Union was happy to be back in his familiar surroundings.
“He was looking out the door, waiting to get outside,” said Matz. “He got out (to the paddock), had a little roll, started to eat some grass, and watched the other horses walk to the track and training.”
Matz continued to give credit to jockey John Velazquez and Union Rags for their bold move inside Paynter to take the lead in the final yards.
“It was an awfully small hole for such a big horse to fit through,” he said. “I have to give him and Johnny credit. They got it done.”
Union Rags won the Champage Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont last year and finished second by a head to Hansen in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). This year, he's captured the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) in addition to the Belmont Stakes win, finished third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He has won five of eight races in his career while earning $1,798,800.