HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Union Rags dominated the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, bolstering his credentials as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.
Trained by Michael Matz, Union Rags won his first race since he lost to Hansen by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. The son of Dixie Union finished four lengths ahead of News Pending, a 27-1 long shot saddled by Kent Desormeaux.
“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,” Matz said in a release put out by the track. “I guess we did it right this time.”
With Julien Leparoux aboard, Union Rags made a three-wide move coming out of the backstretch and took the lead on the turn. He then pulled away for his fourth victory in five starts.
Union Rags ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.68 to earn $240,000 for owner and breeder Phyllis Wyeth. Discreet Dancer faded to third.
Morning-line favorite Algorithms was scratched with a popped splint in his right-front leg.
Matz said Union Rags is scheduled to race in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31.
RISEN STAR STAKES: In New Orleans, favorite El Padrino edged Mark Valeski in a close finish to win the Grade 2 $300,000 race, the final prep for the Louisiana Derby.
Neither horse was separated by more than a neck for most of the final stretch, leaving the rest of the field of 11 up the track.
El Padrino, trained by Todd Pletcher, paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.20.
It was his third win in five career races and his first in a graded race. He went off as the 3-5 favorite, and jockey Javier Castellano coaxed just enough out of him to justify those odds.
“You hope it’s the kind of race that he’ll improve from,” Pletcher said. “He’s become battle-tested a little bit and is getting more professional all the time. Hopefully he’s learning how to win.”
Mark Valeski, part of a dual entry by trainer Larry Jones, paid $3.20 and $2.40. Z Dager took third and paid $3.20 to show.
The Louisiana Derby is April 1, five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher said running El Padrino there would be one of his top options.