Five years ago, Florida pinhooker Eddie Woods sold Big Brown for $190,000 to Hidden Brook, agent for Paul Pompa, at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. That son of Boundary went on to capture the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) during an Eclipse Award-winning season in 2008.
This year, Woods is pumped up about the possibility that another graduate from his sale program, 3-year-old Union Rags , can also become a classic winner.
“I tell you what, I’m very excited,” Woods said. “I think he (Union Rags) has as good a shot to win the Derby as any horse in a number of years. I think he’s very talented; we don’t even know (the extent of) his talent yet.”
Some people have questioned Union Rags’ Derby credentials, saying his pedigree doesn’t have the stamina it needs. But Woods disagrees.
“From what I’ve seen and the way he runs I’m not worried,” said the Sunshine State horseman. “He actually reminds me a little bit of Barbaro (the 2006 Derby winner who was conditioned by Union Rags’ trainer Michael Matz). He looks like he’s only getting ready to really go near the finish.”
IEAH Stables, which was a member of the partnership that campaigned Big Brown, sent Woods Union Rags late in the summer of 2010 after acquiring him for $145,000 during the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction. Paramount Sales consigned the bay Dixie Union colt to the sale for his breeder, Phyllis Wyeth.
“He was always a lovely horse,” said Paramount’s Pat Costello. “But he was still immature when he was at the sale. There was nothing wrong with him. We just always thought he was going to fill out to be an even nicer horse when he grew into himself. But he had a lovely disposition. He was very quiet and friendly, and he never laid his ears back. He also had a lovely walk to him, with a lovely overstride. He actually had a little bit of a swagger to him in the way that he used his shoulder and back end.”
Costello was hoping that Kentucky-bred Union Rags would command “a hair more” than he ended up bringing.
“They weren’t lining up to vet him (examine his throat endoscopically); off my memory, he had two or three ‘vets’ on him, which was probably a little lower than average for the sale,” Costello said. “Mrs. Wyeth was very gracious and thanked us very much. She was happy at the time and it was a very positive experience for everybody.”
When Union Rags was with Woods, the colt developed physically in the way that Costello had predicted. By the time the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training rolled around, “he was a big beautiful horse,” Woods said. “He was very classy acting and a beautiful mover; just a nice, nice horse. He was like Big Brown because they were both big and they were beautiful movers. They also were alike in temperament; very quiet and very laid back.”
During his preparation for the Fasig-Tipton sale, which involved an introduction to training and the track, Union Rags learned his lessons well and willingly, according to Woods. During the under tack show prior to the Fasig-Tipton auction, the colt worked an eighth of a mile in a brisk :10 1/5.
“He was very straightforward, boringly straightforward, and very smart,” Woods said. “He was one of them really easy horses. Thankfully, he was uncomplicated. Like the good ones always do, he learned fast.”
In an interesting twist, Wyeth suffered from seller’s remorse and ended up spending $390,000 at the Fasig-Tipton auction to get Union Rags back.
“I thought he would bring a little bit more,” said Woods of the colt’s price. “I kind of got the idea that Mrs. Wyeth was showing significant interest, so I actually wasn’t too surprised when she bought him. But I was surprised at what she gave for him. Usually when you sell something for $145,000, you don’t come back and give $390,000. It’s the greatest case of seller’s remorse that you’ve ever seen.”
But for Wyeth, it turned out to be a good move. As a 2-year-old Union Rags scored in the Champagne (gr. I) and Three Chimneys Saratoga Special (gr. II) Stakes, and also finished second in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). This year the Triple Crown nominee cruised to a four-length victory in the Feb. 26 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II).
Union Rags, who is out of the Gone West mare Tempo, has earned $1,098,800 while winning four of his five career races.