I watched the replay to the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and saw a 4-5 favorite on or close to the lead the entire time. I kept thinking, that’s not Union Rags, because he certainly would be the favorite in every race he runs, right? No, there he rated, three to four lengths off Discreet Dancer, that 4-5 favorite.
Union Rags showed why he’s on top of most horseplayer and turf writer Top 10s. He rated, Barbaro style, Big Brown style, Animal style (In-and-Out Burger reference), just off the pace, then Julien Leparoux gave him reign and let the big bay uncork the bubbly.
“I’m just so happy right now,” Matz told Daily Racing Form. “Julien said he didn’t even touch him with the whip. He did everything on his own. And when he said it was ‘time to go’ he [Union Rags] said okay and just went beautifully. He’s such a smart horse, so easy on himself for such a big horse. I didn’t know after four months if he could do this. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
The turn of foot he exhibited vaulted him into a special category of Derby contender, the kind when you can’t wait for their next start. I can’t say that for many horses this year. Hansen intrigues, but nobody thinks he has that classic-style stamina needed to win at 10 furlongs. (I was looking forward to seeing Hansen decked out like a stock car, but NYRA stewards squashed that.)
The Fountain of Youth broke a promise when Holy Bull winner Algorithms scratched with a splint injury to his right front. Can’t fault the horse, though it would’ve been nice to see the two most exciting Derby contenders.
Union Rags proved, in a loss to eventual Champion Juvenile Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup, he was the best of his generation … early on, by traveling approximately 70 feet farther than Hansen en route to losing by a few whiskers. Trips, what can you say?
Union Rags did something Uncle Mo couldn’t do a year ago at this time: inspire a certain measure of awe. Uncle Mo made his three-year-old debut in a tailor-made ungraded stake against Rattlesnake Bridge and a cast other allowance horses that would get laughed off a B-movie set. Union Rags debuted in a Grade 2.
The prep season has yet to warm; it would make the Abominable Snowman reach for a blanket. But I just watched “Inception” for the second time and I have a feeling Union Rags just planted the idea that this year’s Triple Crown may be worth watching after all.
(Sidebar: I think I know what happens with “Inception” now. Might have to watch it a third time and reach deep into the third dream state. The parallels are too perfect. Is this column a projection of my self-conscious? Who’s dream am I in? Yours? Whoa. When does the new “Batman” come out?)
Union Rags has reached Level One of the dream state. He still needs to reach a deeper level of our collective unconsciousness, two, maybe three levels, but he’s there, turning the combination to our safes.
Our totems spin and wobble. Sure, Union Rags can play the leading man, he can be Leonardo Di Caprio. “The Beach” or “Inception”?
He’s diving deep, planting the idea, and I’m beginning to believe.
Brendan O'Meara rocks 140 characters on Twitter.