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.