Smile Politely

Stars collide at Gulfstream

It may have been a blessing in disguise when Union Rags lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. The then-undefeated colt walked into the tenth post position as the even-money favorite at Churchill Downs, but endured a wide trip throughout and a nearly full field of competitors to just miss being crowned Juvenile champ. The race cemented the class of Union Rags, displaying his stamina and talent over the rest of the field; it also revealed a fatal quirk in his mentality. Better to find a flaw as a 2-year-old when there is still room for error than on the path to Triple Crown stardom, which is surely this colt’s destiny.

Exiting the turn for home in the Juvenile, Union Rags switched on the after-burners and looked like a sure winner. But just after he passed the quarter pole, the colt began to veer out to his right, which cost him his momentum and the race. This was not the first time Union Rags made this abrupt move in the middle of the stretch; he made the same drastic lane change on his way to winning the Grade II Saratoga Special in the slop. In the Special, it looked as if Union Rags was not taking kindly to being whipped on his left side and thus caused him to drift right, but a replay of the BC Juvenile will prove jockey Javier Castellano was not whipping him on the left—he was actually shaking the reins, and that move seemed to make the colt veer out. Did Union Rags merely see the reins and think he was being whipped? Whatever the case may be, here’s hoping the colt has matured and put that quirk behind him. As he stands now, despite his loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the fact he has yet to run this year, Union Rags is still the early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.

With the pressure off to keep a spotless record intact, Union Rags won’t have press screaming he’s the “second coming” like Uncle Mo had did last year, but his supporters are still squarely behind him. The colt already has enough earnings to reserve a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May; he just needs to maintain his impressive form as a juvenile. Union Rags will make his 3-year-old debut this Sunday at Gulfstream Park in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes against another popular Derby hopeful, the unbeaten winner of the Grade III Holy Bull, Algorithms.

Algorithms can boast something that Union Rags cannot: in his last start, Algorithms defeated the great white streak, Hansen. The Todd Pletcher trainee became an instant sensation after that victory, proving his two previous romps were early signs of things to come. In fact, Algorithms blew past Hansen as if the Juvenile champ was nothing more than a ghost on his radar, going on to win the race by five lengths. Algorithms, by hot sire Bernardini, looks more than ready to step up to his next big challenge.

To make things all the more interesting, Union Rags’s regular rider, Javier Castellano, has opted to ride Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth; Julien Leparoux will replace Castellano. This race should prove to be a showdown in more ways than one; Castellano will quickly find out whether he made the right decision to move off Union Rags.

Even though Union Rags and Algorithms will be getting all the backing at the windows, they aren’t the only horses in the Fountain of Youth. Six other challengers will dare to take this race away from the headliners, including another Todd Pletcher trainee, Discreet Dancer. A son of Discreet Cat, Discreet Dancer has won both of his races, the last of which came in a 1 mile allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream, which he took by five and a half lengths. Fort Loudon, Casual Trick, Neck ‘n Neck, News Pending, and Csaba round out the rest of the field. Watch for Algorithms to be sitting just off the pace, while Union Rags settles somewhere mid-pack; if both run their races, watch out for a dogfight mid-stretch. With both of these colts exuding plenty of talent, the Fountain of Youth could be the beginning of a beautiful rivalry between these two on the road to Louisville.

The $400,000 Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes will be aired live this Sunday on HRTV and on Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:13pm ET.

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