A cluster of milestones appeared at the wire of the $300,000 Debutante Stakes (gr. I) as Union Strike opened up a commanding lead mid-stretch at Del Mar Sept. 3, and the 2-year-old daughter of Union Rags mowed them all down.
Not only did Union Strike become a stakes winner and get her first graded stakes win, she became Union Rags' first black-type stakes winner and first grade I winner. She is also the first grade I winner for her 25-year-old trainer, Shelby Ruis.
Union Strike was dismissed by bettors at 7-1 in favor of 8-5 favorite American Cleopatra, a full sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah . The 5-2 second choice was Champagne Room, who won the Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) in her previous start.
Under Martin Garcia, Union Strike got a perfectly patient ride; at one point tracking next-to-last in the field of seven. Morganite took the early lead, after bumping with Miss Southern Miss right after the break, and led the field through fractions of :22.16 and :45.25. Going right with her was American Cleopatra, who passed the fading pacesetter at the top of stretch only to hook up with Champagne Room. Garcia was in the midst of a powerful drive with Union Strike coming out of the turn, and the momentum carried him past the leaders to win by 2 1/4 lengths despite losing his whip. The final time was 1:23.22
"No special instructions for me today; they just said 'Keep her happy,' " said Garcia. "I've worked this filly the last few times and I broke her out of the gate one time. Something wasn't quite right. The gateman suggested we try a different bit on her. The one they were using was too strong. So they made the change and it's made a big difference. She was a runner today. And I think the farther they go, the better she's going to be."
Ruis said Union Strike was less nervous than she had been in her last start, and that the outside gate also seemed to help.
"We always thought she would turn out to be a really nice horse, and she has so far," said Ruis. "We didn't have any worries going up against those other horses. They had all the pressure. We were the longshot, but we knew what we had so we were really excited."
American Cleopatra finished second by a nose over Champagne Room. The remaining order of finish was Noted and Quoted, Miss Southern Miss, Morganite, and Holy Mosey. Union Strike paid $17.40, $7.80, and $4.40. American Cleopatra paid $3.60 and $2.60, while Champagne Room paid $2.40. The $2 exacta paid $52, while the $2 trifecta paid $274.20.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Pollock Farms, Brian Kahn, Taylor Brothers Property, et al. She is the second graded stakes winner out of the Smart Strike mare Classic Strike, who also produced grade II-winning millionaire Handsome Mike , by Scat Daddy. The mare has a Scat Daddy yearling filly, and this season foaled a colt by Broken Vow .
Union Strike was purchased from the Old South Farm consignment to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s April 2016 sale of 2-year-olds in training for $375,000 by Ruis Racing, which is owned by Shelby Ruis' father, Mick Ruis Sr. The trainer and her father indicated their newly christened graded stakes winner will next be aimed for the Oct. 1 Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.