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.