Union Rags: Why Breeders' Cup Runner-Up Must Win the 2012 Kentucky Derby

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IMay 5, 2012

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03:  Union Rags trains on the track in preparation for the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The time is now for thoroughbred heavyweight Union Rags, who is a 9-2 favorite to take home the 138th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Union Rags, who will be ridden by jockey Julien Leparoux on Saturday, has not won a Grade I race since Champagne at Belmont Park last October. 

Unlike other sports though, horse racing is less forgiving to underachievers, who have a season at most to develop into Derby favorites and ultimately Triple Crown contenders. 

Time is running out for Union Rags.

The colt fell short at Churchill Downs last November, finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to Hansen (who has 10-1 odds this weekend) and then suffered a major stumble at the Florida Derby back in March, finishing third behind winner Take Charge Indy (who has 15-1 odds this weekend), who finished more than 11 lengths ahead of Union Rags.

On both occasions much was expected of him, most notably at the Florida Derby, where he was favored and facing a field of soon-to-be Kentucky Derby competitors.

Somehow the hype surrounding Union Rags has survived his recent struggles. His impressive bloodline, which includes Dixie Union and 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, has largely elevated his reputation over the past year, but it will be his performance at Churchill Downs Saturday that determines how he is remembered.

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Morning-line favorite Bodemeister (who has 4-1 odds this weekend) was incredibly dominant at last month's Arkansas Derby, winning by more than nine lengths. A similar type performance in a Grade I event such as the Florida Derby would have made Union Rags the runaway favorite this weekend, but instead Bodemeister enters as the horse to beat.

Horse racing is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? sport and clearly Bodemeister has done more lately than Union Rags. Although the outcome of Saturday's Kentucky Derby can change all of that, Union Rags must win in order to prove himself as a legitimate world class thoroughbred.

Otherwise, his earlier wins at the Saratoga Special and Champagne might as well be for nothing. 

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