Horse Racing “Backtrack”: Union Rags Dominates Fountain of Youth

Union Rags used his vaunted late run to blow away six other rivals by four lengths in our Horse Racing highlight race of the weekend, the 2102 Fountain of Youth Stakes, this past Sunday at GulfstreamPark in Florida. I’ve been high on this horse since last summer at Saratoga and it looks as though he’s gotten even better as a three year old.

Before we recap Union Rags’ impressive win let’s first take a look at other action from around the country this past weekend.

Awesome Maria, who hasn’t raced since last summer, annihilated 2011 Champion Three Year Old Filly Royal Delta and won the Sabin Stakes by eight lengths at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

At the start, Canadian Mistress led through the first quarter of a mile (:23.4) and the first half mile(:47.1) while Awesome Maria and Royal Delta sat third and fourth respectively. But on the turn for home Awesome Maria went three-wide and cruised up to take the lead without much effort. From there she simply ran them off their feet and finished the one and one sixteenth miles in 1:42.4.

Winning  jockey John Velazquez said Awesome Maria’s race “unbelievable” and later added that she didn’t “get off to such a good start”.

“I planned on sitting third, but I didn’t plan on it being a start like that,” Velazquez said. “She broke slow but it worked perfect. She settled in down the backside and then I gave her her head and she took off. She was very impressive off the layoff today. Good to have her back.”

Royal Delta, the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner, got up to be second and is still being pointed to the $10 million Dubai World Cup March 31 according to her connections. This was clearly not a must win race for last years champion as jockey J.J. Lezcano didn’t put her under any serious pressure down the stretch.

Also at Gulfstream Park, 2011 Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf Perfect Shirl finished a dismal seventh to 11-1 shot Here to Win in the Very One Stakes. Perfect Shirl’s performance further fuels my speculation that she may be a “one hit wonder” but we’ll see how the rest of the year plays out.
Grace Hall, one of last year’s top two year old fillies, came second in her 2012 debut to Yara in the Davona Dale Stakes. Yara went off at 65-1 and paid an eye popping $131.00 to win.

Over at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana, 2010 Kentucky Derby runnerup Nehro showed he might be back with vengeances as he destroyed as optional claimer field by over 7 lengths. It’s good to see this late runner by Mineshaft back in action. He should definitely spice up the older male horse division this year.

Six races later El Padrino catapulted himself up the (my) upper echelon three year olds with a gusty win in the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes. El Padrino was fourth early as longshot Hero of Order set the pace thru fractions of  :24.2, :48.3, and 1:13. From there Mark Valeski took command of the race but El Padrino, who was to his outside, drew on even terms and those two battled it out all the way down the stretch. In the end, El Padrino was able to get his nose in front.

“We’re certainly happy enough with the race today and the Louisiana Derby (on April 1) will be one of our first options,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. “You hope it’s the kind of race that he’ll improve forward and become battle-tested a little bit; he’s getting a little bit more professional all the time and, hopefully, learning how to win”.

“I think racing is going to help him” Pletcher added. “He’s got two good mile and a sixteenth races under his belt now so this year we’ve got a good foundation. But he’s a big, strong colt, carries plenty of condition, and he’s a big, laid-back horse on a daily basis so I think he’s the kind of horse that needs racing to get more and more fit. He’s not one to give you a huge effort every day and that’s good in the long run, but sometimes those kind of horses take a little longer to reach their peak.”

Out at Santa Anita, the wickedly fast The Factor broke well and established the early lead in the $200,000 San Carlos Stakes. He ripped an opening quarter mile in :22.2 and the half in :44.2 (a :22 second 2nd quarter mile) and cruised to the top of the stretch with a two length lead. The race got exciting midway down the stretch as the late running Sway Away was coming with giant strides on the outside. The Factor seemed though to have put it into another gear and held on to win.

2011 Champion Sprinter Amazombie, who finished third, came up flat in the stretch.

“The Factor really dug in today” said winning trainer Bob Baffert. “It looked like they were going to come to him a little bit, then he took off again.”

“I’m just glad The Factor showed up today,” Baffert added. “He ran really hard. He was pretty tired when he came back, but we’re excited the way he ran. He’s always been brilliant since day one.”

Sway Away also deserves kudos. He ran well late and closed a ton of ground from the three eights pole or so home. We definitely need to keep an eye on him in the future.

“He was off since June so you can’t complain when a horse runs that well first time back, but it’s frustrating,” trainer Jeff Bonde said of Sway Away. “We were hoping somebody would pressure (The Factor) a little harder and, it just is what it is. But our horse ran well. I’m not going to complain.”

Trainer Bill Spawr said Amazombie needed the race, as he expected. But “We’ll see what happens next time.”

2012 Fountain of Youth 


This race was a little anti climatic as top three year old Algorthims was scratched due to a popped splint in his right front leg. (The splint bones are attached to the cannon bone by a ligamentous structure. Sometimes, stress causes that ligamentous structure to tear and therefore bleed a little. The natural healing process in a horse causes the area to calcify and become a bony scar. Basically, the weak spot gets welded with bone.) Trainer Todd Pletcher said it’ll be “several days before he knows where he stands with the horse” (generally speaking the healing process is 1 to 3 weeks, but the area will continue to calcify for some time).

Discreet Dancer, as expected, took the early led and cut fractions of :24.2, :48, and 1:12 with Union Rags, who was laying much closer to the early pace than normal, in third.

At the peak of the far turn, Union Rags unleashed a powerful burst of speed with very mild urging from jockey Julien Leparoux. He struck the lead as they straightened away down the stretch and left the entire field in his wake. He cruised under the line, basically being pulled up by Leparoux, a four length winner.

“I was hoping he would run a good race, but I was not expecting that,” Leparoux said. “He’s such an easy horse to ride and did everything so easily. I didn’t hit him once. I just showed him the stick a couple times. I’m sure he was not 100% today, which means he should just get better.”….that’s scary.

Trainer Michael Matz , who trained the ill fated Barbaro, said of his horse who hasn’t raced since the Breeders Cup last November “You never know after a four-month rest: Do you have the horse fit enough, did you do this, did you do that? You always go through 51 questions. I guess we did it right this time,” the trainer said. “The next stop will be the Florida Derby, and hope we can go to the Kentucky Derby.”

If you ask me, the fact he came home his last quarter mile in :23 4/5 (getting the final eight of a mile in  :06 2/5 under wraps) and, more importanly, he ran a dead straight line with a beautiful stride shows me I was right all along about this horse. If he stays sound….look out! (click the link below for the replay, sorry was having troubling linking up again)

Little Bets N’ Pieces:

*** Speaking of trainer Bob Baffert, when The Factor won the San Carlos Stakes it marked his 16th win in his last 17 races in which he has had a starter (at Oaklawn Park, Golden Gate Fields, and Santa Anita), including 11 in a row. He has five stakes victories in that span.

“I’ve never been on a streak like this,” Baffert said. “It’s exciting”

“I’ve got a great staff, they work hard, and everybody’s focused right now. That’s why we’re doing well. We’re picking the right spots for these horses and that’s the most important thing.”


Bob Baffert a winner of 16 out of his last 17 races

*** 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 flat this past weekend and appears almost ready for her seasonal debut….which is the New Orleans Ladies Stakes March 17 at Fair Grounds

Havre de Grace is getting closer to her 2012 debut

*** Congratulations to jockey Javier Castellano for winning his 3,000th career race this past Friday at Gulfstream Park. He guiding Virtuously victory in the sixth race

“It feels great. It was time. I stayed patient and rode the same way I always ride,” Castellano said. “I’ve been very blessed to have all the support from all the owners and all the trainers and my agent, Matt Muzikar. People think it’s only myself, but it’s not. I have a lot of help.”

Castellano said Bernardini, the 2006 Preakness Stakes winner, and the great Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, were among the top horses he has ridden during his career.

Javier Castellano collects #3,000

*** 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom appears to have come out of his first race as four year old in good order.

“He’s a very hard horse to read because he always acts kind of tired,” trainer Graham Motion said. “But he certainly didn’t seem knocked out by it. I think we couldn’t ask for a better prep, really.”

Animal Kingdom, shown here wining the Kentucky Derby, came out of his first race of 2012 in good condition