If you weren’t a believer before, you should be now. At this time, Union Rags is hands down the best three year old in the United States.
After his narrow defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, some thought that he was overrated, some thought that others might improve and become a force in this division and some thought he was still maturing. If you were part of the latter group, good for you.
Sunday afternoon at Gulfstream Park, the Michael Matz trained colt put on a racing clinic and served notice to the rest of the three year olds, he IS the horse to beat on the Derby trail. Prior to the race, the anticipated showdown between he and Algorithms was put on hold as Todd Pletcher was forced to scratch his colt due to a popped splint. It is unclear as to how long the Bernardini colt will be out of action. Most racing pundits have these two horses as #1 and #2 in their Derby contender rankings.
Another Todd Pletcher colt, Discreet Dancer took the early lead in the race and was let out on moderate fractions of 24.5 and 48.11 for the first 1/2 mile of the 1 1/16 miles race. You would have thought on those fractions, he would have been tough to catch. The Dale Romans colt, News Pending was sitting off his lead with Union Rags back in 4th. As they hit the far turn, you could tell there was no doubt who would win this race as Julien Leparoux let his colt make a run and was catching up to the front two with ease. As they turned for home, the Dixie Union colt had already built a two lengths lead on Discreet Dancer. He pulled away with each stride and was hand ridden to victory. News Pending got up for 2nd, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Discreet Dancer. The final time of 1:42.68, just .33 seconds off the track record. If he wasn’t so far in front, he might have broken the record.
Two things to take away from this race, Union Rags is a beast and will be tough to beat at any distance. He has a huge stride and the longer distance will only help him. Discreet Dancer fell off easy early fractions to lose by over 6 lengths. He’s either not the horse we thought he was or we will eventually find out that something happened to him during the race.
IN OTHER ACTION
Todd Pletcher did not have much racing luck in Florida with one horse bowing out to injury and the other not racing very well. However, he did get an impressive win in Louisiana as his up and coming colt El Padrino ran extremely well to win the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. It was a hard fought win by a nose over the Larry Jones trained Mark Valeski. He was bet down as the 4/5 post time favorite and he did not disappoint. Speaking of Larry Jones horses, Mr. Bowling, who came into the race off a win in the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes, did not respond at all while finishing last. That tells me something went wrong and might come out that he was injured during the race.
Pletcher didn’t stop there as his gray mare Awesome Maria returned to action after missing over 8 months due to win the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Park. She destroyed the field which included recently crowned three year old female champion Royal Delta, by 8 lengths! She covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.81. That extends her winning streak to five races. A streak that started with her win in this very race last February. For Royal Delta, don’t look at this race as a disappointment, this was her first race since wining the Ladies Classic at the Breeders Cup Championships in November and she prefers the longer distances. The path for her was to get a prep race under her belt on route to making the trip overseas to run in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan.
All eyes were on Grace Hall in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. This was her first race back since suffering her first defeat at the hands of My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November. She was bet down as the 4/5 favorite. She sat off the lead for the first 1/4 mile, then took it over shortly thereafter. It looked as if she would be able to take command of this race at the far turn since the fractions for the 1 1/16 miles stakes race were moderate. However, she would get into a battle with 64/1 longest shot on the board Yara. These two would go at each other all the way down to the wire with Yara shockingly winning this race by 1/2 lengths. Yara, who was coming off a 4th place finish in the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes last time where she lost by 22 1/2 lengths, did win the Joe O’Farrell Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Calder race course prior to that.
On the West coast, Bob Baffert was continuing his winning ways as his multiple graded stakes winning colt The Factor went gate to wire in the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita. He defeated a hard driving Sway Away by 1/2 length and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie was another 1 3/4 lengths back in 3rd. The Factor completed the seven furlongs in 1:20.56. After going back to back races out of the top three (BC Dirt Mile and Ancient Title Stakes), the War Front colt has now won back to back races including the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in late December.
STATS: Baffert has now won five graded stakes race in a span of 7 days. View all those races by clicking here. Todd Pletcher won two races this weekend, giving him 8 graded stakes on the year. See the other six races, as well as, other ranked trainers, jockeys and horses by clicking here. Javier Castellano makes it three weeks in a row that a jockey won two graded stakes races in the same weekend. He won the Sabin and Risen Star Stakes. Last weekend, Rafael Bejarano won both Southwest Stakes races and Martin Garcia won the San Vicente and Santa Maria Stakes the previous weekend.