Union Rags, Michael Matz’s star trainee, and Todd Pletcher’s undefeated Algorithms will face off in Sunday’s $400,000 Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida.
Union Rags, who finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a head behind winner Hansen, will make his three-year-old debut. The loss was the Dixie Union colt’s only defeat in four lifetime starts. Sunday’s test will reveal whether or not the colt still has the spark of brilliance he showed as a two-year-old.
“We’re looking for a good performance that will propel him to his next race which will hopefully propel him to the Kentucky Derby,” Matz said.
Matz, who trained 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, said that Union Rags was a more mature two-year-old than Barbaro and able to do more at that age, but that the two have a lot of similarities.
“I think the timing was just a little bit different and other than that they have a lot of similarities,” Matz said. “They are big, long striding horses. Union Rags has a little bit better demeanor about him. It’s just so easy to do everything with him. He is so accommodating with everything he does. He still has to prove what Barbaro did prove.”
Previously ridden by jockey Javier Castellano, Gulfstream Park’s current meet leader, jockey Julien Leparoux has recently become Union Rags’ regular rider.
“I think they’re all good riders,” Matz said. “Actually, as it turns out, I asked Julien to ride this horse first and he told me he had another mount up in Saratoga and his mount got hurt. He’s been trying to get on the horse ever since so, things work in funny ways but I’m perfectly happy with Julien .”
Castellano, who has been the regular rider for Pletcher’s Algorithms, is hanging his Derby hopes on the Bernadini colt and will be in the irons on Sunday.
Algorithms is undefeated in three starts. He made his stakes debut in last month’s Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes in which he defeated the favored Hansen by five lengths over a sloppy Gulfstream track. That performance earned him a 105 Brisnet speed figure and the graded earnings needed to make the Kentucky Derby’s limited field.
“This horse has tried so hard that I would expect that he would be sharp enough to win this race,” said Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing, owner of Algorithms. “Whether he wins it or not, I don’t think really makes a difference. I think the horses that are in this race are looking to get in here and get out of here in one piece and move onto the next one. But I think he’ll do well.”
Although the race will likely come down to these two stars, the Fountain of Youth’s eight-horse field includes others hoping to shine. Pletcher will send out another lightly-raced colt in Discreet Dancer. This colt appears to be on the same path as stablemate Algorithms. Discreet Dancer is coming into this race with the same race history—impressive wins in a maiden race and a subsequent optional claiming race. Will he be the one to upset the apple cart just as Algorithms did in the Holy Bull?
An interesting long shot play might be Csaba, a son of Kitten’s Joy. He has two victories in three starts on the synthetic track and will make his first start on dirt in Sunday’s race. In his last start, the ungraded Dania Beach Stakes, he finished fifth on the turf. Frequently, horses proven on the synthetics and making their first start on dirt, explode on the track and turn in an unexpected performance.
The remainder of the field includes Neck ‘N Neck, who’ll add blinkers, Fort Loudon, who’s hoping to return to his form of last summer, Nick Zito’s Casual Trick, and Dale Romans’ News Pending.
The race is the 11th on Gulfstream Park’s 12-race Sunday card with a scheduled post of 5:13 p.m. It can be seen on HRTV and TVG.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby