Union Rags

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Union Rags
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Algorithms vs. Union Rags in 3YO Showdown

Top Derby contenders will square off in the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

There’s a good chance we’ll have a clear-cut favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) after the Feb. 26 clash between the undefeated Holy Bull (gr. III) winner Algorithms  and Champagne (gr. I) winner Union Rags  in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). Throw in the undefeated and untested Discreet Dancer from the same barn as Algorithms' and you have one of the most anticipated Derby trail matchups in years.

“It’s a little scary taking on a horse like (Union Rags),” said Jack Wolf, who manages Starlight Partners, owner of Algorithms. "It’s pretty exciting to have three horses of this caliber in the field; they’re very hard to separate. It’s a tough race, but in this game if you don’t like action you’re in the wrong sport. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see these horses go against each other.”


Michael Matz, trainer of Union Rags, has been down this road before with Barbaro, so he is well aware the Fountain of Youth, as big a race as it is, is merely a steppingstone to the ultimate goal on the first Saturday in May.

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“Todd’s horses have been running awfully fast, but it is what it is,” Matz said. "We’ll have to face them sooner or later. They’ve had a couple races under their belt already, but we can’t change our program because of the horses that show up. We’re planning for the Kentucky Derby. He’s only had four races in his life, so were just looking for a good performance that will propel him to his next race, which will propel him to the Derby. Todd’s horses are untested around two turns, so that’s still a question mark.”


Algorithms and Union Rags have actually clashed already off the track, competing for jockey Javier Castellano, who was the regular rider of both horses. It was a tough decision for Castellano, who rode Algorithms’ sire, Bernardini, but in the end he and agent Matt Muzikar chose to stick with their main supplier of top horseflesh, Todd Pletcher, for whom Castellano has also ridden top-class 3-year-olds El Padrino , Discreet Dancer, and Gemologist .


“I’m sure it was a tough decision,” Wolf said. “I talked briefly to Matt and suggested he do what he thinks is right for him and Javier. Hopefully, he made the right decision.”


Matz said he holds no animosity and is not disappointed in the decision, which prompted him to sign up Julien Leparoux for Union Rags.


“Pletcher has so many horses and I don’t have near that amount I could offer Javier,” Matz said. “(Muzikar) told me last month he was riding Union Rags. Then I saw the article that he was riding Algorithms and called the agent, and he said something different, so I don’t know what the problem was.


“They’re all good riders, so I’m not disappointed. I had actually asked Julien first to ride Union Rags last year, and he told me he had another mount at Saratoga. His mount got hurt and didn’t run and he’s been trying to get on this horse ever since. I’m happy to have him. He worked him other day and the horse went very well for him.”


Wolf said he’s thrilled and excited to have a horse of this caliber, who is so highly regarded for the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he has not had any success, starting with Harlan’s Holiday, who finished seventh as the 6-1 favorite in 2002.


“It’s amazing to get anything else done,” Wolf said. “I get up in the morning and think, what is this horse going to do next? I can’t wait until Sunday. I would imagine he’ll be stalking Discreet Dancer, with Union Rags behind us, but I can’t worry about that. Thank goodness I don’t have to ride or train the horse.


“He tries so hard, and I would expect he’ll be sharp enough to win, but whether he wins or not isn’t going to make a difference. Everyone just wants to get out of here in one piece. He could be a real special horse. He’s already faced good competition, such as Hansen and Consortium. We stopped on him last June because of a little hock problem and sent him to J.J.’s (Pletcher) farm to be turned out, and it’s proven to be a blessing in disguise.”


Union Rags also was turned out on a farm last year following his narrow defeat in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).


“The day after the race we turned him out at Skara Glen Farm (near Wellington, Fla.) for 45 days,” Matz said. “He was then ridden on the farm for two weeks before being sent to Palm Meadows (training center). I remember they sent me a picture of him lying down in his paddock sunning himself. He’s 17 hands and has filled out and looks magnificent. Mentally he’s got a terrific disposition.


"We just have to see how he competes with these horses. We have the luxury of having enough graded earnings already, so I don’t have to tighten the screws on him.”