Catching Up With Union Rags

Legends
Union Rags in March 2016. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

In one of the most competitive 2-year-old crops in recent years, Union Rags looked like the best of the best coming into the 2011 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The flashy bay was undefeated going into the race and had been eye-catching in his three victories for trainer Michael Matz, winning them by a combined margin of 14 ¼ lengths, including a 5 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in his final Breeders’ Cup prep. Bettors were so confident in Union Rags’ chances going into the Juvenile that he went off as the favorite at 11-to-10 odds, the lowest seen since Officer went off as the 0.75-to-1 favorite in 2001.

A green (inexperienced) horse who took a while to get into stride, this worked against Union Rags when chasing down the front-running Hansen. With an easy lead and Union Rags shying out in the stretch, Hansen was able to hold him off by a head at the finish line to take the Juvenile and the champion 2-year-old title as well.

Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing
Union Rags came back the following year with a new jockey on his back for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes for owner Chadds Ford Stable. It was an easy race for the colt, who went off as the second choice at odds of 6-to-5 (favorite Discreet Dancer went off at 4-to-5). Sitting midpack, Union Rags bided his time before making his move on the far turn and galloped home under a hand ride with a four-length lead to take his record to four wins in five starts.

In the Florida Derby, Union Rags kicked into gear in the final furlong but suffered his second loss when he was third behind Take Charge Indy. His first off-the-board finish came a race later when finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby. After being nearly last for most of the derby, Union Rages made up a lot of ground in the stretch but finished a well-beaten seventh.

Union Rags saved the best for last five weeks later.

The colt skipped the Preakness Stakes after his Kentucky Derby performance and for the first time had John Velazquez aboard for the Belmont Stakes. Velazquez had won the Belmont in 2007 with Rags to Riches and finished in the top three four other times between 2006 and 2010. It was the first time Velazquez had ridden the colt in a race but it went perfectly.

Union Rags raced in midpack, many lengths closer to the pace in this race, as Paynter set the tempo a few lengths ahead. Union Rags stuck to the rail as he moved closer coming into the turn while multiple horses took shots at Paynter on the lead. It looked in the final furlong that Paynter would win the race in wire-to-wire fashion with Union Rags looking like he’d be stuck behind him. But in the final furlong, Paynter drifted out just enough to leave a hole big enough for Union Rags to squeeze through. It took Union Rags some convincing from Velazquez to go through the gap, but once he did, his massive strides ate up the length he had to cover and he won by a neck as the second choice.

2012 BELMONT STAKES

The Belmont turned out to be Union Rags’ final race with the colt suffering an injury in July. He retired with earnings of $1,798,800 from five wins in eight starts. It was announced the following month that he would begin his second career as a stallion at Lane’s End Farm in 2013, the third generation of his family to stand there after his grandsire and sire.

“We are thrilled that [owner] Phyllis Wyeth has chosen to stand Union Rags at Lane’s End,” William Farish, the owner of Lane’s End, said in a press release. “He has all the makings of a top stallion. He was a brilliant racehorse with outstanding conformation, and he has an exceptional pedigree.”

Union Rags started his career at an advertised fee of $35,000, breeding 137 mares in his first year at stud for 106 foals. Those first foals have sold well throughout their years in the ring with his most expensive horse from that first crop selling for $975,000 earlier this year as a 2-year-old.

Union Rags’ first foals are 2-year-olds this year with only two starters so far, but the first time was the charm for him when Lady Stardust ran away with the win to give her sire a 5 ½-length victory with his first starter. His other starter, Taglia, tried to help keep his perfect record intact but fell just a length and a half short when finishing second at Keeneland to a filly by fellow Lane’s End sire City Zip.

Union Rags still stands at Lane’s End where he is stabled in their main stallion barn, next to 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft and kitty-corner from the legendary Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy.

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