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The scratching of undefeated ALGORITHMS from Sunday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park probably made things easier for once beaten UNION RAGS. But he sure performed as if Algortithms would have needed his career best to threaten.
The Michael Matz-trained Union Rags was making his 2012 debut in the traditional 1-1/16 mile Fountain of Youth Stakes after narrowly losing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall to HANSEN. But, the son of Dixie Union looked as if he was fit enough on the final Sunday of February to have won the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby that will be run in 10 weeks. The 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby is of course scheduled to be run on the first Saturday in May.
“You never know after a four-month rest,” Matz said after watching Union Rags cruise to his comfortable four length win over longshot NEWS PENDING and previously undefeated DISCREET DANCER. “Did I have the horse fit enough? Did you do this or that? You always go through 51 questions,” Matz continued. “But, I guess we did it right this time.”
Obviously the man who previously trained BARBARO to win the 2006 Kentucky Derby made no mistakes bringing Union Rags to his 2012 debut. Now Matz will be striving to keep Union Rags moving forward as the colt points towards his second and final Derby prep race — the $1 millionFlorida Derby on March 31.
After closely stalking the pace under his new rider Julien Leparoux, Union Rags made a three-wide move leaving the backstretch and took command on the final turn with Leparoux merely holding the reins and sitting in the saddle. After putting away Discreet Dancer who set comfortable fractions of :24.50, :48.11 and 1:12, Union Rags pulled away with the greatest of ease to score with no further encouragement by Leparoux. The final time for the 8-1/2 furlongs was 1:42.68.
“I was hoping he would run a good race,” said Leparoux, the nationally prominent jockey who inherited the mount when Union Rags’ regular pilot Javier Castellano opted to ride Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth and EL Padrino at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. Added Leparoux: “I was not expecting that! He is such an easy horse to ride though and (Michael Matz) may not have had him cranked up to 100 percent, but he sure had him ready.”
Leparoux did not need to use the whip at any stage of the race and both horse and rider left the winner’s circle without signs of stress or strain. Algorithms on the other hand probably — but not definitely — out of the Derby picture after popping the narrow splint bone that is attached to the colt’s canon bone above the right ankle. Such an injury usually is not career or life threatening, but rehab takes at least 30 days and this is no time to lose 30 days of training. Algorithms’ stablemate, Discreet Dancer, also seemd to hurt his Derby chances when he came out on the track looking stiff legged and ran as if one mile might be as far as he wants to run in top company.
As for El Padrino, he proved to be a tough customer winning the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Saturday, fighting off a spirited battle with rapidly improving MARK VALESKI. The latter, a son of PROUD CITIZEN, set a modest pace and resisted El Padrino when both horses quickened for their battle through the long Fair Grounds’ stretch run that measures 1346 feet.
With El Padrino on the outside under Castellano and Mark Valeski on the inside with Rosie Napravnik aboard, both horses bumped a few times during their intense duel which led to a stewards inquiry. No change was made however as El Padrino’s nose hit the wire first in 1:42.96 for the 1-1/16 mile race that is an annual prep for the $1 million Louisiana Derby . Trained by Todd Pletcher, who also trains Algorithms and Discreet Dancer, El Padrino previously had won twice in four starts and probably benefitted from this hard fought outing.
“I was impressed with his performance,” Pletcher said. “Shipping in from Florida to a new track that was playing towards speed, he ran a very strong race… I am not sure we’ll be back next month (for the Louisiana Derby),” he added. “But it is one of our options. Certainly, we think he belongs on the list of top Derby prospects.”
The same appears to be true for Mark Valeski, who was making his first start around two turns for trainer Larry Jones after three career starts at 5 and 6 furlongs.
“That’s a good horse,” Pletcher said of Mark Valesi after evaluating the way his good horse, El Padrino had to run to win the Risen Star.
Added Note: Trainer Bob Baffert’s speedy THE FACTOR won the San Carlos at Santa Anita on Saturday to continue an amazing streak for Baffert. Through the San Carlos and another win on the Sunday Santa Anita card, Baffert had won 13 straight races in which he saddled a horse or two. The streak ended later in the day when Baffert lost twice. As for losing, last year’s Champion Filly ROYAL DELTA was defeated in the 1-1/16 mile Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday by the hardhitting AMESOME MARIA. The latter actually went to the post slightly favored in the betting and scored her fifth straight victory, all in Graded stakes at one mile or longer.