By Dick Downey
Union Rags won the Grade II Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes by daylight, establishing himself as the clear leader on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
With Algorithms sidelined by a popped splint and scratched from the race, Union Rags would have inherited the role of favorite in the race -- but for a large late surge of wagering that pushed Discreet Dancer down to 4-5. Union Rags was elevated to 6-5 from earlier betting that made him as much as the 3-5 choice.
Discreet Dancer broke well under John Velazquez and meted out measured fractions of :24.50, :48.11 and 1:1205. News Pending, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, was rushed up to sit off Discreet Dancer's flank early in the backstretch, and Casual Trick rated behind those two. Union Rags and Julien Leparoux patiently sat back in fourth, a couple of lengths off the lead, give or take.
Rounding the turn, Leparoux asked Union Rags for a little more, and he responded by capturing the front as they turned for the short stretch home. In short measure, Union Rags was getting away without being touched by Leparoux.
Discreet Dancer faltered a bit, allowing News Pending to stay up for second. Union Rags crossed the finish line four lengths clear, timed in 1:42.68 for the 1 1/16 mile.
In fourth at the wire was Neck 'n Neck, followed by Fort Loudon, Csaba and Casual Trick, who finished last in a race at Gulfstream Park for the second straight time. He was the clear third choice at 8-1.
The win was the fourth in five starts for Union Rags, winnner of the Grade II Saratoga Special and the Grade I Champagne Stakes last year. He was second in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his final race of 2011.
The next stop for Union Rags will be the Grade I Florida Derby if all goes according to plan, and then on to the Kentucky Derby.
Union Rags picked up $240,000 of the $400,000 purse of the Fountain of Youth, pushing his graded stakes earnings to $1,070,000.
A son of Dixie Union, Union Rags is out of Tempo, by Gone West. He was bred in Kentucky by Phyllis Wyeth. Wyeth sold Union Rags at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton August sale for $145,000, but she decided she'd made a mistake and bought him back at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old sale for $390,000.
Wyeth worked as secretary for John F. Kennedy during his tenure in the White House.
Last week, Matz said the plan would be to lay back and make one run with Union Rags, who has grown to virtually 17 hands. Not only did the plan work, the winner made it look easy.
It was not a good weekend for Todd Pletcher. Discreet Dancer, who set a track record in his Gulfstream Park career debut, failed to meet expectations in the Fountain of Youth. And the trainer must now wait and see whether Algorithms can go forward on the Derby Trail.
Discreet Dancer went into the Fountain of Youth off four workouts. It would have been five but for a fever he spiked in January. Whether that missed breeze made a difference in today's outcome is anyone's guess.
Winning trainer Michael Matz: “He’s such a smart horse, and he does everything so easy on himself for such a big horse. 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. I guess we did it right this time. The next stop will be the Florida Derby and hope we can go to the Kentucky Derby.”
“Julien said he didn’t even touch him with a whip. He did everything on his own. He said when he said ‘Time to go,’ he just went beautifully. I couldn’t be more pleased right now.
“Usually there are always a couple glitches along the way, but so far everything has gone in the right direction, and he did it the right way, and I’d only think if he runs a race like this his second or third races, we’ll be pretty good.
“I think anytime you have a race under your belt, it gets you a little tighter. Julien said he didn’t get tired and galloped out well. (Assistant trainer) Peter (Brett) did a nice job with the horse, working the horse. He’s a big help to me because he’s on the horse, and it is an extra tool to use in the training.
"If it wasn’t for maybe two feet, he'd be undefeated, also (like Barbaro at this point). I think he’s a real good horse, he’s a got a real good disposition, and I certainly don’t think there’s any problem with distance with him.”
Julien Leparoux: “I was hoping he would run a good race, but I was not expecting that. He’s such an easy horse to ride and did everything so easily. I didn’t hit him once. I just showed him the stick a couple times. I’m sure he was not 100 percent today, which means he should just get better.”
Owner/Breeder Phyllis Wyeth: “We were just out for a practice run. Can you believe that one? And we didn’t want him to peak to soon. We were not expecting him to win..and giving pounds to Discreet Dancer.”
Todd Pletcher, trainer, Discreet Dancer: “There were no real excuses. We got the trip we wanted, and he just finished evenly.”
John Velazquez, aboard Discreet Dancer: The pace was slow enough. With those fractions, he should have been able to finish a lot better. I don’t know, I guess he was just flat today.”