A sunny, picturesque fall afternoon awaits Belmont Park on Oct. 8, with no rain in the forecast. The question of the day is, will Union Rags run as well on a dry track as he did in the slop nearly two months ago? If he does, the other eight juveniles he faces could be have a tall task ahead of them.
Union Rags, a runaway winner of the Aug. 15 Three Chimneys Saratoga Special (gr. II), puts his unbeaten record on the line in the $300,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I), where he was made the 7-5 morning-line favorite. The winner of the one-mile event will receive a paid trip to the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Post time for the Champagne, which shares the spotlight with two other grade I races on Saturday at Belmont, is slated for 5:18 p.m. EDT.
Owned by Chadds Ford Stable and trained by Michael Matz, Union Rags romped by 7 1/4 lengths in the Saratoga Special, which was run in a sea of slop. The son of Dixie Union dueled and then edged in front of favored Stat at about the half-mile marker, drawing clear in the stretch despite drifting out badly under Javier Castellano. He earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
In his July 12 debut at Delaware Park, Union Rags proved that he was also capable on a dry track, breaking his maiden by 1 3/4 lengths going five furlongs.
Based at Fair Hill training center for Matz, the bay colt has worked four times since the Saratoga Special. Bought for $390,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select 2-year-olds in training sale and consigned by Eddie Woods, agent, Union Rags was bred in Kentucky by Phyllis M. Wyeth and is out of the Gone West mare Tempo. Castellano will ride once again.
“He’s been doing fine,” said Matz. “He’s growing up, and each race he will continue to mature more and hopefully progress. Right now, we are quite happy with the way he is.”
No other stakes winners are included in the field, but there are a host of impressive maiden winners. Among them is Godolphin Stable’s Alpha, a six-length victor in his Sept. 3 debut at Saratoga going seven furlongs. The son of Bernardini broke slowly but took over turning for home and drew clear convicingly under Alan Garcia. He recorded a bullet work Oct. 3 at Belmont for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, clocking five furlongs in :59 4/5 in his second work since his debut. Garcia will have the call again on the 5-2 second choice.
“Union Rags is the horse to beat but we like our horse,” said McLaughlin. “He’s doing great and the one mile should suit. We just broke his maiden, so it’s a big step to a grade I. The timing is good, with him having had his first race a month ago. As racing goes, you’d like to start them a little earlier but we’re here now. We think he fits well.”
Another no-doubt-about-it maiden winner was McConnell Racing Stable and Team Stallion Racing’s Speightscity, who scored by 11 1/2 lengths going nine furlongs at Saratoga on Sept. 2. The Gary Contessa trainee put on his dazzling display after running fourth on the Saratoga turf course in his racing debut on Aug. 11. By Speightstown, the chestnut ridgling will get a new rider—Corey Nakatani.
Rick Dutrow Jr. won the Champagne two years ago with Homeboykris and is back with another good chance thanks to Jay Em Ess Stable’s Takes the Gold. The son of Corinthian won by 3 1/4 lengths in his second start Sept. 10 at Belmont, also at one mile. He was sent off as the 1-2 choice that day after failing as the favorite in his Aug. 6 debut at Saratoga when third.
Also in the mix is Donald Adam’s homebred Power World, runner-up in both the July 2 Bashford Manor (gr. III) at Churchill Downs and July 24 Sanford Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. The son of Distorted Humor was fifth in the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) in his last start.
$300,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:18 p.m.), 2YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. No Spin (KY), R Maragh, 122, T A Ice
2. Speightscity (KY), C S Nakatani, 122, G C Contessa
3. Takes the Gold (KY), J R Velazquez, 122, R E Dutrow Jr.
4. Power World (KY), E S Prado, 122, N J Howard
5. Alpha (KY), A Garcia, 122, K P McLaughlin
6. Union Rags (KY), J Castellano, 122, M R Matz
7. Right to Vote (KY), A O Solis, 122, E G Harty
8. Invocation (KY), D Cohen, 122, J C Kimmel
9. Laurie's Rocket (KY), C H Velasquez, 122, D Stewart