The Michael Matz-trained 3-year-old colt broke from the starting gate and breezed four furlongs in 48 4/5 seconds shortly after 7 a.m.
Union Rags, who captured the Saratoga Special (G2) and the Champagne Stakes (G1) last season, hasn’t run since suffering his first loss in four career starts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, when his wide stretch drive fell a head short of catching victorious Hansen.
His trainer designed the gate workout, as well as other schooling sessions in the starting gate, to stoke the competitive spirit in the son of Dixie Union.
“We’ve stood him a couple times in the gate. We wanted to pop him out today and we’ll stand him in the gate again on Thursday, and then he should be ready to go,” Matz said. “He’s going to be running against horses that have been racing and he hasn’t raced since November. He’s a big, quiet horse, so I thought a little reminder wouldn’t hurt.”
Union Rags is expected to meet the undefeated Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Algorithms and Discreet Dancer, both of whom are two-time winners at the Gulfstream meeting, in the Fountain of Youth. Julien Leparoux will be aboard Union Rags for the first time, replacing Javier Castellano, who opted to ride Algorithms in the 1 1/16-mile prep for the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on March 31.
Matz’s longtime assistant Peter Brett was aboard Union Rags Sunday morning, subbing for Leparoux, who rode Daddy Nose Best to victory in the El Camino Real Derby (G3) at Golden Gate Fields Saturday night and whose return flight wasn’t scheduled to land until 8:15 a.m.
“He said if I wanted to make it at 9, he’d try to make it,” said Matz, who decided to go ahead with the workout as planned. “I said, ‘If you want to gallop him, come up any time to gallop him.”