Weekend Recap: FOY and Risen Star

Union Rags Roars, El Padrino Outduels

Click on Picture to View FOY Replay

There’s something to say about a horse after his first step on the Kentucky Derby trail turns out to be as dominate as it was for Union Rags. The impressive win in his 3-yr-old debut will bring a lot of attention moving forward but before dive into where he’ll be seen next, let’s take a look at why his Fountain of Youth win was the most impressive victory on the derby trail so far.

Union Rags broke soundly and settled in comfortably just off the pace. Julien Leparoux got him where he wanted as he let a pair of horse’s battle for the lead in front of him. Pressing the pace in 2nd was News Pending behind the undefeated favorite Discreet Dancer who moved swiftly though the opening quarter and half-mile in fractions of 24.50 and 48.11. But the quick pace didn’t do much as Union Rags wasn’t biting on battling for the early lead. Instead he raced smart and by the time they hit the stretch Union Rags took control of the race and put the field away with ease. Click Here to view the official race results and pay outs in the 2012 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

When considering what this win tells you about Union Rags and his Kentucky Derby chances there are three important things that should not be overlooked.

  1. His Nose for Racing
  2. The FOY Field
  3. The Layoff

More specifically his nose for racing refers to just how smart Union Rags is considered to be. After the race trainer Michael Matz praised his talented colt by talking about how he knew when to make his move. When considering this race down the line, just remember that the charts don’t reflect just how easy of a win that it really was. Your program will show 4 lengths but the FOY replay shows you how little Leparoux urged him to the wire. The reason he didn’t is because he didn’t have to, Union Rags seemed to know when it was time. The race was in hand long before the stretch and when no one mounted a late charge, Leparoux relaxed him through the final furlong without even touching his whip en route to a non dramatic but very superb performance – 1 1/16 Mile in 142.68.

Secondly the field he beat in the Fountain of the Youth was not lacking derby contenders and should not be dismissed as outclassed by Union Rags. Sure the race would have been easier to grade if it included the highly touted Algorithms but after being diagnosed with a popped splint that match was taken off the table. Even with his absence there were other horses in this field that were graded stakes tested and still very alive on the Kentucky Derby trail. Therefore I can’t sack this win by claiming that it was a one Kentucky Derby horse race. If I did I would have to discount the margin of his win and the effortlessness Union Rags displayed.

The most impressive of the three factors is his return to racing after a 3 ½ month layoff. Last time out prior to the FOY was a disappointing 2nd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5th. The only disappointing thing about the race was that he didn’t win because other than finishing 2nd to Hansen it was still a solid conclusion to an otherwise perfect 2-yr-old season. And so Union Rags, the considered favorite for the 138th Kentucky Derby, was ready to return in the G2 Fountain of Youth.

3-yr-old debuts are closely watched but it also tends to be a race that is not analyzed the most when gauging a horse’s Kentucky Derby chances. The goal of every trainer is to have their horse rear and ready to peak on the first Saturday in May. To have a picture perfect plan play out does not mean you have to win every race along the way or at least not in such stellar fashion. Instead there is a very progressive approach. In Union Rags’ case the FOY was a stepping stone for the Florida Derby and his return to racing needed to be just enough to confirm that he was on track to be ready for his final race prior to the Kentucky Derby. But again his performance in the FOY was anything but just enough, it was magnificent.

So what does this race tell us about his progression? Obviously he’s ahead of where his connections expected him to be. But because his connections were counting on improving his conditioning before the Florida Derby does that mean that Union Rags can still get better? In my opinion it absolutely does. Likewise however, so can every other horse on the Kentucky Derby trail. Regardless it’s going to take some time and therefore it’s also going to take time for any other contender to replace Union Rags as the 138th Kentucky Derby favorite.

The win was beautiful and was a very striking 3-yr-old debut. All the credit this colt is going to receive over the weeks ahead will be well received and hard-earned. There’s a lot to say about him but the word favorite is likely to be said the most. According to Matz the plan is still in place, his next race will be the G1 $1 Million Florida Derby followed by the Kentucky Derby.

Congratulations to Union Rags and his connections, we look forward to continuing to follow you along the trail. For Algorithms, the colt is scheduled to have surgery to remove a fractured splint on the right foreleg by Dr. John Madison of Ocala Equine Hospital. Due to the injury and surgery, Algorithms has been taken off the derby trail so we wish him a successful surgery and a speedy recovery.


On Saturday it was El Padrino that proved to be the upside on the weekend for trainer Todd Pletcher and Jockey Javier Castellano. But it wasn’t a win that came without some intense moments. Rounding the far turn there were a few different contenders positioning themselves to make a move in the G2 Risen Star but by the time El Padrino and Mark Valeski hooked up for battle it turned into a two-horse stretch duel.

And by duel I mean photo finish followed by a stewards inquiry. In the end, El Padrino survived them both. The claim of foul by Mark Valeski’s rider Rosie Napravik was ultimately thrown out because the brief contact was viewed by the stewards as an incidental brush moving forward. It was close but not enough to overrule the gutsy stretch bid that led to the win. Click Here to watch the Risen Star Replay.

The victory is the first graded stakes win in for El Padrino after finishing 3rd in his only other graded stakes race, the G2 Remsen at Aqueduct in November. Owned by Let’s Go Stable the win makes him 2-2 in 2012 and gives Todd Pletcher options on where to enter him next. For the time being he has been sent back to South Florida and Palm Meadows Training Center. Pletcher wouldn’t rule out sending him back for the Louisiana Derby but wasn’t willing to confirm so the Florida Derby could be an option. Overall El Padrino is a legitimate derby contender that proved he can battle all the way to the wire. There is room to progress as his road to the Kentucky Derby continues so he will be fun to watch.

As for the horse that ran a heart breaking second, Mark Valeski is on the right track to becoming a derby hopeful. A win in an Allowance Optional Claiming race at the Fairgrounds in January led this 3-yr-old colt to his first ever graded stakes which now sets him up to return for the Louisiana Derby. As for his stable mate Mr. Bowling it was a very disappointing finish for the LeComte Stakes winner. Expected to be a contender the horse failed to fire and finished last in the field of 11. Both horses have a lot of work cut out for them but can make an effective statement in their next prep. Click Here to view the official race results and pay outs in the 2012 Risen Star.

Congratulations to El Padrino and your connections. We also look forward to following you along the trail and seeing if your trainer decides to send you back to New Orleans or elects to keep you in the sunny skies of Florida.

Written by: Little Brink


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