Sunday, March 25, 2012

Union Rags Breezes the ‘Right Way’ in Preparation for Florida Derby

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Fountain of Youth (G2) victor Union Rags breezed a half-mile in company Saturday at Palm Meadows Training Center in preparation for a start in next Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby (G1).

The 3-year-old son of Dixie Union, who is expected to be a solid favorite in Gulfstream Park's signature race, breezed the four furlongs in 49.10 seconds under assistant trainer/exercise rider Peter Brett.

"He did it the right way. He went out with a set that worked, and Peter just sat behind them. I just wanted to have something for him to point at," trainer Michael Matz reported from Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Boynton Beach. "The other two horses worked nicely and he worked nice and galloped out really well."

Chadds Ford Stable's star made his 2012 debut on Feb. 26 in the Fountain of Youth, in which he finished four lengths clear of the field while in hand under jockey Julien Leparoux.

"I think he should take a step forward from that. It didn't look like he had to give everything he had," Matz said. "I would hope that having a race under his belt would help him for the Florida Derby."

Union Rags captured his first three races, including the Saratoga Special (G2) and the Champagne (G1), before finishing second, a head behind Hansen, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). He was forced to race extremely wide from his outside post position and was unable to overtake pacesetter Hansen.

"He had some unfortunate problems in the Breeders' Cup, which unfortunately could arise again, but right now he's more mature physically and mentally than he was as 2-year-old, and I think it showed in his last race," Matz said.

Another Florida Derby contender, Chuck and Maribeth Sandford's 3-year-old Take Charge Indy, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 Saturday morning at Palm Meadows for trainer Pat Byrne in his final tune-up for the Florida Derby.

"It was a good maintenance work," said Byrne. "He's ready to go. It looks like the best (Kentucky) prep of the year. We know it will be a tough race. Union Rags is a very good horse. I'm actually a little surprised they've got six horses likely to run against him."

A regally-bred son of A.P. Indy out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, Take Charge Indy will be making his second start of the season as will Union Rags. In their only previous meeting, Take Charge Indy finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, beaten 6 ¼ lengths as Union Rags finished second by a head as the favorite behind Hansen.

Take Charge Indy returned to finish a good second in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race here on Jan. 29, two lengths behind Todd Pletcher-trained El Padrino, the latter going on to win the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds on Feb. 25. Take Charge Indy was entered but scratched from a start in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) on Mar. 10 after drawing post position 10.

Jockey Calvin Borel was aboard Take Charge Indy for the first time in the allowance race last out and will fly in for the mount Saturday.

Meanwhile, at Gulfstream, News Pending stretched his legs in a five-furlong breeze. The Fountain of Youth runner-up was timed in 1:02.90 in preparation for the Florida Derby..

"It was slow but good," trainer Dale Romans said. "It was a perfect work."

The son of Harlan's Holiday has shown strong development at the Gulfstream meeting, which he kicked off with a maiden victory in his fourth lifetime start on Dec. 22. He scored by a half-length in the 1 1/8-mile turf event and came right back to close from far back to finish second behind highly regarded Exothermic in an entry-level allowance on Feb. 5. Although no match for Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth, News Pending was clearly second best, finishing 2 ¼ lengths clear of favored third-place finisher Discreet Dancer after prompting the early pace.

"He's had a good winter here," Romans said. "He's ready to run next weekend."

Rajiv Maragh has the mount for the Florida Derby.

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