Union Rags won the Grade 2 $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida in impressive fashion.
Making his first start of the year for trainer Michael Matz, Union Rags sat mid-pack in the field of seven behind the leaders, News Pending and Discreet Dancer. Patiently, jockey Julien Leparoux waited until reaching the final turn before asking Union Rags to move. Like a seasoned professional, Union Rags moved past his competition. Leparoux guided the colt across the finish under a hand ride, 4 lengths in front of Dale Romans’ second place finisher News Pending. Todd Pletcher’s Discreet Dancer, the post-time favorite, was another 2 ¼ lengths back.
Immediately following the race, Matz said, “I’m just so happy right now. It’s great to be back.”
Matz is best known for training 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Although Matz has since saddled others in the Kentucky Derby, none have shown the spark of brilliance like Barbaro as Union Rags.
“The next stop will be the Florida Derby [March 31] and I hope he can go to the Kentucky Derby,” said Matz.
The race was set to be a showdown between Union Rags and Todd Pletcher’s Holy Bull winner Algorithms. However, Algorithms was scratched Sunday morning due to a “popped splint.”
According to an online report by veterinarian Terry Bramlage, a popped splint is when the splint bone, which normally lies on top of the cannon bone, tears away from the cannon bone. Often times the injury is nothing more than an inconvenience that is resolved with rest. Recurring popped splints can be more serious. At this point, it is unclear how long Algorithms will be sidelined or if the injury will knock him off of the Derby Trail.
Although Matz made it clear in pre-race interviews that it wasn’t necessary for Union Rags to win the Fountain of Youth, with Algorithms out of the race, he had to win it. If Union Rags couldn’t beat this field, it would be highly unlikely he could win the Kentucky Derby off of only one more start. Fortunately, he returned in fine fashion and looks to be the latest Kentucky Derby favorite.
Union Rags paid $4.40, $3.20, and $2.10. News Pending returned $10.80 and $3.60 and completed the $2 exacta for $62.60. Discreet Dancer paid $2.10 and completed the $1 trifecta for $62.90. Neck ‘N Neck completed the $1 superfecta for $280.70. The final time for the 1 1/16 mile over the fast track was 1:42.68.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby