Union Rags' last race is one that everyone involved with this horse, including everyone who bet
on him, would like to forget. He got roughed up at the start, found much more traffic than he
needed to around the track, and did not have enough gas left to mount a serious late charge in
the Kentucky Derby.
He was the second betting choice in the race, and he had been favored until not long before
post time, so the seventh-place finish qualified as a major disappointment no matter how you
That effort followed a mysteriously flat race in the Florida Derby, so Union Rags is more than
four months removed from his best effort.
Union Rags was just barely second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Hansen as an even-
It was three other big wins that really captured the imagination of fans.
He won three graded stakes—the Saratoga Special, Champagne, and Fountain of Youth—by
an average of 5.5 lengths, and he looked overwhelmingly dominant each time.
When the horse is in top-form he looks other-worldly. A problem that stands out, though, is that
his top Beyer speed rating is just 100, and he has only reached better than a 93 once.
Jockey: John Velazquez
Julien Leparoux had been on this horse the last three times he raced. They were a potent pair
in the Fountain of Youth, but Leparoux made serious mistakes in both the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
Those mistakes were not the only reason the horse disappointed, but someone needed to take the blame, and a change seemed warranted.
Velazquez is new to this horse, but he knows the Belmont track very well, he has won the race,
and he is a very capable jockey. Leparoux has yet to ride nearly as well in Triple Crown races
as he is capable of from day-to-day, so this seems like an upgrade.
Trainer: Michael Matz
Matz, a former Olympic show jumper, has won a Breeders’ Cup race and other major events,
but he will always be known as the trainer of Barbaro.
He is not as experienced as the big-name trainers, but he is more than capable of having this
horse at his best for this race.
If there is one cause for concern it is that he has expressed more frustration about the fate of his horse this Triple Crown season than I would ideally like to hear.
There is plenty of Triple Crown influence in his pedigree. Sire Dixie Union skipped the Triple
Crown in 1999, but he did win the Haskell Invitational, one of the two biggest races of the
summer for three-year-olds. His sire, Dixieland Band, is the damsire of two Kentucky Derby
winners—Monarchos and Street Sense. Dixieland Band was a son of the great Kentucky
Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer.
The damsire of Union Rags, Gone West, also sired 2000 Belmont winner Commendable
and was grandsire of Smarty Jones. Gone West’s damsire is Secretariat, and his sire, Mr.
Prospector, sired winners of all three Triple Crown races.
I could go on, but the point is clear—there is a ridiculous amount of class in this pedigree, and
there is a good chance that the horse will handle the Belmont distance.
We have seen Union Rags succeed in different ways.
In the Saratoga Special he took the lead early and pulled away from the front. In the Champagne and Fountain of Youth he settled just off the pace before making a move at the top of the stretch.
In the Florida Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he was a little further off the pace, and he came up short in the end.
The ideal scenario for the horse would be to find a comfortable spot just behind a fast pace
where he can stay out of trouble and get ready to unleash his run. If forced, though, he could set the pace, though it would likely be a more conservative one given his lack of top-end speed.
Belmont Stakes Contenders: Union Rags Prognosis
This horse will be a popular choice thanks to his flashy wins and his compelling connections. I
expect him to go off as the second betting choice well behind obvious favorite I’ll Have Another.
While that is probably where he belongs in this field I will not bet him to win unless his odds are surprisingly inflated. I do not like the horse nearly as much as most people seem to.
I have been really disturbed by his flat performances his last time out. Even more disturbing
was that he finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he easily could have beaten
Hansen if he had really wanted to.
I do not think the horse has an overabundance of heart, and heart is the single biggest factor
required in winning the Belmont Stakes.
The pace scenario should work reasonably well for him, but if it comes down to a duel between him and the favorite I just do not think he is good enough to win. He will factor in my exotic bets, but likely not on top.