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Can Union Rags Stretch Out?

Union Rags, who remained winter favorite for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) despite a narrow loss to Hansen (TrueNicks) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), made his keenly-awaited seasonal debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II, video) at Gulfstream Park. The wait proved worthwhile, as Union Rags could hardly have been more impressive, settling behind a fairly modest pace, moving three wide round the far turn, and drawing off in the stretch to score by four lengths without ever being touched with the whip. In the process, he not only solidified his standing as Derby favorite, but also took his earnings past the $1 million mark.

Of course, the Fountain of Youth Stakes is only 8½ furlongs, so the question is, how well will Union Rags fare when he stretches out to ten furlongs in the Derby? The answer, as is so often the case with the modern North American Thoroughbred, is a definite "maybe."

Union Rags is by Dixie Union, who was euthanized in July 14, 2010, at the age of 13 due to a deteriorating neurological problem, and whose loss impacted not only the stallion's connections but also the breeding industry at large. Standing at $35,000 in his final season, Dixie Union was a horse who came up time and time again as a solid commercial option when mating plans were being made. A horse who seemingly never had a quiet season—he had six stakes winners in his first crop, followed by six, four, six, eight, and four stakes winners in the following crops, respectively—Dixie Union was not only an outstanding physical individual himself, but could be relied upon to sire good-looking offspring. He sired runners who were frequently precocious, both good colts and good fillies, and they found success in both the U.S. and Europe.

Dixie Union was also significant as the principal representative of a distinct branch of the Northern Dancer sire line. He was by Northern Dancer’s son Dixieland Band, a smart but not top-class runner who became a significantly better stallion than he was a racehorse. The sire of 117 stakes winners, Dixieland Band was represented by other useful, and generally regional, stallions such as Citidancer, Dixie Brass, Hook and Ladder, and Dixieland Heat, but Dixie Union was not only his best U.S.-raced son, but also his leading sire son.

In his unfortunately brief career, Dixie Union did his best to extend the line, and he already has at least five sons at stud. High Cotton – who had the 2011 Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Currency Swap in his first crop – and millionaire Gone Astray (TrueNicks,SRO) are in Florida; the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) victor Dixie Chatter (TrueNicks,SRO) in California; graded winner and Travers Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Grasshopper (TrueNicks,SRO) in Texas; and the speedy Bulldogger (TrueNicks), who stands in Arizona.

However, if there is to be an extension of the Dixieland Band branch of Northern Dancer into the second decade of the 21st century, it could be through Dixie Union’s son Union Rags. Hailed as the leader of his crop at 2 after winning his first three starts—a maiden at Delaware, the Saratoga Special (gr. II) which he took by 7¼ lengths, and the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) by 5¼ lengths—Union Rags was expected to set the seal on his domination of his generation in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He looked likely to capture that event as he threw down his challenge in the stretch, but then hung to the right, allowing the game front-runner Hansen to snatch victory by a head. Hansen also emerged victorious in the year end voting for champion 2-year-old, although Union Rags shared top-spot with him on the Experimental Free Handicap.

Looking back to his sire for stamina clues, Dixie Union was a graded winner over six, 6½, and eight furlongs at 2. At 3, he did stretch out to nine furlongs to capture the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) over Captain Steve, Milwaukee Brew (TrueNicks,SRO), and More Than Ready (TrueNicks,SRO), but after finishing fourth over the ten furlongs of the Travers Stakes (gr. I), dropped back to seven furlongs to win the Malibu Stakes (gr. I). As a stallion, his influence has tended towards the speedier end of the spectrum, although Gone Astray, Justwhistledixie, and Dixie City were graded winners at nine furlongs, and Grasshopper ran Street Sense to a ½ length in the Travers Stakes (gr. I).

Union Rags is the best runner to date for his dam, the winning Gone West mare Tempo, who was 17-years-old when Union Rags was foaled. Tempo, who scored both her victories over six furlongs, is dam of seven winners from eight starters, and prior to Union Rags her most notable runner was Union Rags’ brother, Geefour, a four-time winner who was also stakes-placed in restricted company at Philadelphia Park. Tempo’s Rahy daughter, Tempo West, is dam of Vertiformer (by Dynaformer), winner in France of the Grand Prix du Lion d’Angers, and of War Pact, a War Front (TrueNicks,SRO) colt who last spring was second in the Prix de Suresnes, an early trial for the French Derby.

Union Rags’ second dam, Terpsichorist, was a long-winded daughter of Nijinsky II who excelled on the grass. Successful in the Sheepshead Bay Handicap (gr. II), Long Island Handicap (gr. III), Rutgers Handicap, Athenia Handicap, and Violet Handicap, she set course records for both 11 and 13 furlongs at The Meadowlands. At stud, Terpsichorist produced only one stakes winner, Marry Me Do, a tough son of Blushing Groom, who won four black-type events at Laurel Park. However, her grade II-placed Devil’s Bag daughter, Dancing Devilette, has continued her branch of the line very effectively, as she is dam of the graded winners Satans Quick Chick and Pratella, and stakes winner Satan’s Code. She’s also granddam of the graded scorer Blue Sky Holiday, and stakes-winning and multiple graded-placed Angliana. Another of Terpsichorist’s daughters, the unraced Wild Again matron Fortunee, is dam of stakes winners Cheiron and Deadline.

Terpsichorist was extremely well-bred, as she was not only by a English Triple Crown winner, but was out of Glad Rags II, champion filly in Ireland at 2, and heroine of the English 1,000 Guineas at 3. By Sir Winston Churchill’s Hyperion stallion High Hat out of the smart Irish sprinting mare Dryad, Glad Rags II went on to become an extremely important broodmare. The most famous, or perhaps notorious, of her offspring was Terpsichorist’s English-raced brother Gorytus, who is still held by those who at the time were employed by the powerful stable of his trainer, Dick (later Sir Richard) Hern, to be the most talented horse they had seen work on the famed West Ilsley gallops. In his first start, Gorytus took the listed Acomb Stakes at York by seven lengths, while breaking the 2-year-old course record. Following an even more impressive victory in the Champagne Stakes (gr. II), Gorytus was long odds-on to close his juvenile career by defeating three apparently over-matched opponents in the Dewhurst Stakes (gr. I). Once again, Gorytus gave a startling display, but this time it was startlingly bad, as he rapidly faded from contention to finish more than 30 lengths behind the winner, Diesis. Rumors of foul-play and illness abounded, but despite rigorous examination, no evidence of either was ever found. Although he raced on at 3 in England and at 4 in the U.S., Gorytus never showed a shadow of his earlier form, and over time those connected with him have come to believe that he just lost interest in racing. Gorytus’ stud career was another anti-climax, as he sired just seven stakes winners, the only group I winner being Davsoyan, who achieved that honor in Brazil.

Glad Rags II produced a third stakes winner in the shape of Mirthful Flirt, a Raise a Native daughter who won the Kingsclere Stakes in England, and the Golden Rod Stakes (gr. III) and Flirtation Stakes in the U.S. Subsequently, Mirthful Flirt became dam of the Cowdin Stakes (gr. II) scorer What’s Dat, and granddam of Belmont Stakes (gr. I) victor Colonial Affair (out of Snuggle, another daughter of Nijinsky II). Glad Rags II is also ancestress of numerous other major winners, including multiple graded stakes winner Stark South (by Dixieland Band, the grandsire of Union Rags); Dreams Gallore, who took the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I); Prince of Birds, successful in the Irish 2,000 Guineas; and Sudan, whose credits include the Gran Premio di Milano (gr. I). Overall, this looks something like the combination of stretching-out miler speed on the sire’s side, and stamina in the female line which has worked quite well as formula for a Derby horse. However, Union Rags’ brother Geefour did his best work sprinting, although he was second over a mile and 70 yards in a claimer at Presque Isle Downs. Of course, brothers can, and do, inherit very different genetic make-ups, and we’ve always contended that a horse doesn’t necessarily need to be a true ten-furlong runner to win over that distance against his contemporaries in the spring.

Interestingly enough, the TrueNicks Enhanced Report for Union Rags does show that three of the four horses that have shown the most stamina of Dixie Union’s stakes winners—Gone Astray, Dixie City, and Grasshopper—are all, like Union Rags, products of the Dixie Union/Mr. Prospector cross. That cross has produced no less than 17 stakes winners from 114 starters (11%), eight of them graded. Despite the successes of Gone Astray, Dixie City, and Grasshopper, the average winning distances for the colts bred on the cross is 7.03 furlongs, slightly less than the average distance over which they have been asked to race, indicating that the nick is not exactly a source of stamina.

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If Michael Matz isn't at all worried about it, then neither am I. And judging from his gallop out, easy long loping strides, and his style of just relaxing waiting to be asked to go -- I really don't see a lot of reason for concern. He certainly has the size and strength to go along with his talent. Look for speed from the sire, and stamina from the dam, right?

jan 28 Feb 2012 3:49 PM

DI-2.14 CD-0.77

Dual Qualifier with a Dosage index of 2.14.

A little high on the CD index for 10F, but the dosage is there, probably a solid miler after the Derby trail.

KOW 28 Feb 2012 4:49 PM

I really don't think Union Rags will have any problem with the distance. He seems really strong and confident, more so than in the Breeders Cup. Which he only lost by a nose where he ran 75 more yards than any horse in the race. He also seems more mature and fit. Also if Matz is confident in him than he should do just fine. Good luck Rags and connections hope we see him in the winners circle taking the triple crown trophy.

Tammy 28 Feb 2012 5:10 PM

Hi Jan,

Stretching out miler speed over stamina in the dam has proved a very good Kentucky Derby formula. Union Rags' is just a little different in that his dam was speedy, although the granddam could run all day. The third dam was a miler out of a sprint-bred mare that threw speed, so the family isn't quite as stout as say, Animal Kingdom or Thunder Gulch.

The brother was definitely a sprinter, but as you said the way Union Rags races and covers the ground will give him a good shot to carry his speed. I suspect that he's going to be just fine at nine furlongs, so the mystery probably won't be solved until Derby Day!

Alan Porter 28 Feb 2012 5:44 PM

The win by Union Rags in the Fountain Of Youth was indeed

impressive and he certainly won like he could get further.

The second dam Terpsichorist won some good races going long

her dam Glad Rags was one of the many classic winners trained by Vincent O,Brien.When Glad Rags son Gorytus run in

the Acomb Stakes at York,a more than useful race for a horse

to make his debut and drew off to win by 7 lengths he certainly had quite a few people taking notice and when he

come back to win the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster the way he did he looked like a superstar in the making.What happened after that is a mystery but it is possible he just

lost interest in racing.

John T 28 Feb 2012 8:40 PM

Great information.  Not many come into this event without somewhat of a question, these days.

Danzig9871 28 Feb 2012 9:16 PM

What a shame Algorithms is out of the competition for the triple crown, a real good horse. I love Hansen, but don't see him sweeping a triple with his style. Truly love him though, I will be rooting for him. Union Rags was a bit unlucky in the juvenile BC. He is a threat, but I've seen nobody from nowhere win the triple crown races too many times to feel any favorite is a sure bet. I always just hope for a safe trip for all.

KSweatman 28 Feb 2012 11:41 PM

Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but i can see this horse winning, not just the Kentucky Derby, but the Triple Crown. I was not on his bandwagon last year, but watching the horse himself last Sunday, he was confident, rateable (not headstrong), and he moved so smooth that he didn't look like that was much effort at all. And now, reading about his bloodline's history, it seems like people were saying much the same about Secretariat's before his TC win. I am not comparing the two horses, just how people have viewed the bloodlines.

Karen in Indiana 29 Feb 2012 9:20 AM

Karen, at least Secretariat was out of a Princequillo mare who had already produced a winner of the Gulfstream Park H (G1-10f) and who was third in the Belmont, as well as the brilliant Sir Gaylord, already sire of Derby S winner in Sir Ivor. And Sec had a full sister in Syrian Sea, who was 3rd in the CCA Oaks. Clearly class and stamina together from the dam.

Union Rag's female family seems all over the board; it may be that the mares are more heavily influenced by their sires rather than their dams in distance ability. If that is the case, the damsire Gone West does not inspire confidence. Class and talent can stretch a pedigree a furlong or so beyond the optimum distance, so we will see.

By the way, those of you with an eye for this sort of thing, whom does Union Rags resemble most closely? His sire? His damsire? His dam? His sire's dam? This can be an important indicator, as opposed to the full pedigree.

Pedigree Ann 29 Feb 2012 10:00 AM

I do believe that Union rags, will be a serious contender

in the 3 yr olds classics, and also can win all three classics. I watched Union rags raced in the breeders Cup

last november, 2011 and thought that Union rags lost to Hansen, because the rider of union rags, knew that he was on the best racehorse, and then did too much..eg. javier castellano, made a very wide turn into the stretch, and had Union rags then angling inside to try and draw even with hansen, and in doing so Union Rags apparently jumped a shadow, and still kept coming but the wire came before he could overhaul hansen, and therefore lost his race! I dont know, but I do believe what I saw, i had to blame the jockey Castellano for a chacka, chacka ride, and cost Union rags the race!! now, Castellano is off Union rags, by his choice

and now his presuemedly "big Pletcher Horse" is out of the triple crown series, so he apparently gave away his chance to win a Derby, and also the triple crown!finally this happens to most greedy people, who wants it all, and become dis-loyal, and then they do themselves in,BYE BYE JAVIER...

another jockey, "Johnny Boy Velasquez" have been pletcher's football, although he have won million of races for Pletcher, but when came time to win a Kentucky derby for pletcher, it was Calvin borel, these guys are not loyal to even themselves....Johnny Boy Velasquez, won the Kentucky Derby by luck, but not from Pletcher...Javier you are smart but not too bright!!! "Union rags all the way"

Dennis 29 Feb 2012 10:29 AM


  Agree, only the running of the race will show who can get the distance fast enough.  Union Rags is deservedly the current favorite but he has to negotiate the Florida Derby (G1) first.  I'm supposing Leparoux will continue the ride?

  The most striking three year old I've seen so far is Castaway.  Talk about effortless, his Southwest(division 1) race was brilliant and he has the underrated Bejarano.  Looking at his race history indicates to me that the horse wants to go the distance;  the longer he goes the better he runs.

jim of G&R Stables 29 Feb 2012 10:37 AM

Pedigree Ann, you are right - there was more stamina class in Secretariat's dam side. I'll have to check on conformation to see who he looks more like, but when I look at UR, I see a pretty well-balanced colt. What I especially look for to see if they can handle distance is that cheetah look - if the rear end is much higher than the front, then they seem to do better at short distances. Is that true?

Karen in Indiana 29 Feb 2012 11:26 AM

Yes of course, (Leps) will continue to ride "UNION RAGS"

why should'nt LEPS? it's like the "DOG and the Bone"

the story goes, the dog saw his shadow while he had a bone in his mouth, while crossing the river, and due to the reflection of the water, this  bone seemed so large, with more gristle inside, the dog then dropped the one from his mouth, and dived in the river to fetch the larger bone, and then the tides swept his original bone, quickly down stream in a gush of current, he tried to retrieve his bone but it went so quickly, he never could then realize that he was not loyal to himself, as he was just a greedy, yet hungry hunter,although he  already found food, but instead of satisfying, with his catch that day , he wanted it all, and gave away all instead!! great story..this fits javier castellano, and his agent, my thing is ..sometimes "loyalty have it's rewards"

the grass always looks greener on the other side, yes this is true, but also "one mans' garbage, or refusal can also be another man's glory", and in this case, this could really turn into a modern day "Dog & the Bone"

and please if Union Rags were to win the Derby, and even the triple Crown, would you guys publish  this article again, so that everyone learns from it, that would be my only lesson to all in life!we really must try for the top, always, but then also at times we must not burn the bridges

before we reach the top of the mountain!!!!

BYE Javier.."leps is the Bone that you let go"

Dennis 29 Feb 2012 11:28 AM

Hi Pedigree Ann,

Haven't seen Union Rags in the flesh, but understand that he's developed into quite a tall horse. That wouldn't be typical of Dixie Union, Dixieland Band, in fact of the most recent ancestors, Nijinsky II, the sire of Terpsachorist (second dam of Union Rags) would be the horse that came to mind. She's the principal reason that you can't discount the possibility that he'll get ten furlongs.

Alan Porter 29 Feb 2012 1:09 PM

Like Secretariat and Nijinsky, Union Rags' pedigree generates distance questions: nothing new for the really special ones. Truth is that his pedigree does have a mix of speed and stamina with the stamina influences a little further back and deeper but well spread throught his pedigree matrix. Triple crown winners abound in him: Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Nijinsky and Gainsborough. With Epsom Derby and St Leger winner, Hyperion the biggest influence IMO, he should make an awesome stallion prospect and moreso after the Derby.  

Ranagulzion 29 Feb 2012 1:18 PM

May I remind you that Gone Wests son, Commedable, won the Belmont? And, this horse is rangy and tall, all indications that he has a long, ground covering and easy rolling stride. I am a firm believer its up to the horses heart to get the distance, not just their breeding.

Amanda 29 Feb 2012 2:32 PM

There is likely little, if any, genetic linkage(s) between the physique and the cardio-respiratory systems, etc. Yes, certain physiques (such as, perhaps, Union Rags') may be more conducive to greater distance potentialities and may "stretch" what is otherwise less distance oriented cardio-respiratory, etc. systems, but there are relative limits. What you see, outwardly, is not necessarily what you get, so be mindful of pedigree (which may offer insight re-cardio-pulmonary, etc.). And Amanda- a horse's "heart" (not the muscle) is also likely genetically derived.

sceptre 29 Feb 2012 5:00 PM

  No one who was around when Secretariat and Nijinsky were racing questioned their ability to get distances with speed.  The definition of the Thoroughbred is a horse that can get a distance with speed.  there is no apparent rhyme or reason why some horses have stamina or speed or a combination thereof.  Breeding is a roll of the dice;  breed the best to the best is the only thought that makes sense.

  Who's aware that Secretariat worked a 32 3/5 and a 57 2/5 in preparation for his 1973 Triple Crown run?

jim of G 01 Mar 2012 4:04 PM

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