Union Rags is most known for his thrilling win in the 2012 Belmont Stakes. His story, however, goes much deeper than that.
Early Life: Breeding & Sale (2009 - 2010)
The story of Union Rags starts with Phyllis Mills Wyeth, the daughter of prominent Thoroughbred breeders and owners Alice du Pont and James Mills. Wyeth followed in the footsteps of her parents and owned broodmares at her Point Lookout Farm. One of these broodmares, Tempo (Terpsichorist x Gone West), was bit more special than the others.
Tempo results from a line of breeding done by Wyeth’s parents. But, Tempo typically struggled with foaling and twice she almost passed away trying to bring new life into this world. It was seemingly a miracle when Tempo’s colt by Dixie Union was born at Royal Oak Farm without much trouble. With that, Wyeth pensioned her beloved Tempo to protect her from any tragedy that could be caused by foaling.
Tempo and her Dixie Union colt arrived back at Point Lookout Farm looking lovelier than ever. Those who saw the bay, flashy colt knew that he had talent stored deep inside of him. Point Lookout Farm’s manager Juan Diego Martinez recalls that the colt, later to be named Union Rags, was quiet and lazy. Everyone else at the farm agreed. They told stories of his gentleness and how he would let people climb all over him as he laid in his stall. His kind nature at everyone at the farm falling deep in love with him.
Wyeth’s accountants recommended that she sell Union Rags when he was a yearling, advising her that this was a business and not a hobby. Although she wanted to keep the horse, she agreed that it would be the best decision and he was sold for $145,000 to IEAH Stables at the August Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sale in 2010.
She immediately regretted having sold a horse so dear to her heart and knew that she had to get her horse back. A year later, Wyeth’s close-friend and advisor Russell Jones spotted Union Rags at a Two-Year Olds in Training Sale. Russell quickly called Wyeth to tell her; she wanted Russell to bid up to $390,000 for the horse. As if by fate, the hammer landed at $390,000.
Union Rags was back home.
[Video: Watch Union Rags get bought back as a two-year old for $390k]
Two-Year Old Season as a Leading Juvenile (2011):
Union Rags was sent to the barn of Michael Matz, a former Olympic Equestrian turned trainer. Matz had suffered the loss of his horse Barbaro just a few years prior. Though he had trained Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Round Pound after the loss of Barbaro, Matz hadn't had another horse be successful in the Triple Crown races. It would later become clear that Union Rags would be Matz' chance at redemption.
The colt debuted on July 12th, 2011 at Delaware Racetrack, winning in his first asking. His connections recognized his talented and decided to step him up in class for the Saratoga Special (G2); Union Rags paid their belief in him off handsomely by smashing the field by more than seven lengths.
The flashy bay faced some struggles in his next race, the Champagne Stakes (G1). He struggled to get through in the stretch, trying to find a way on the inside before switching to the outside. Nevertheless, he was able to get through to win and earned himself an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Union Rags entered the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at some of the lowest odds in the race's history. He looked like the best two-year old in the country and was already an early favorite in the Kentucky Derby. The fans and bettors hoped he would prove this and in the stretch, it looked like Union Rags would indeed be the victor.
But the colt was green and as he chased down Hansen, he veered towards the grandstand, losing precious ground. He crossed the wire just a nose behind Hansen. He not only lost the biggest race for Juveniles, but also the race for Champion Two-Year Old Colt honors.
[Video: Watch Union Rags (#10) narrowly lose the Breeders' Cup Juvenile]
Three-Year Old Season & Triple Crown Victory (2012):
Union Rags rebounded beautifully by fourth lengths in his first start as a three-year old, the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). He followed up that victory that a close third in the Florida Derby (G1), his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Wyeth's star was still favored to win on the First Saturday in May despite his losses in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Florida Derby. Unfortunately, Union Rags broke very poorly and was near the back of the field for the majority of the race. He had so much dirt on him as he came around the far turn that he was nearly invisible.
He was able to move up the seventh as they crossed the wire despite his horrible trip, leaving I’ll Have Another to win the race.
Trainer Michael Matz was very disappointed in Union Rags’ Kentucky Derby run. He had wanted the colt third or fourth around the first turn, not eighteenth. The decision was made to skip the Preakness Stakes and give Union Rags another chance at a victory in the Belmont Stakes. This time, John Velazquez would ride the horse.
Meanwhile, I'll Have Another swept the Preakness Stakes with Bodemeister breathing down his neck, just as he had in the Kentucky Derby. It looked like the Belmont Stakes could be another showdown for the ages, much like Affirmed and Alydar decades before.
But, Triple Crown dreams were dashed when I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont. He had been diagnosed with tendonitis not long after his win in the Preakness Stakes. The scratch left Union Rags as one of the favorites.
Even without the Triple Crown on the line, the Belmont Stakes turned out to be an exhilarating race. The absence of Bodemesiter left another Zayat Stables owned horse, Paynter, to set the pace. Instead of I'll Have Another running down Bodemeister in the stretch, it was Union Rags running down Paynter.
Union Rags was closer this time as they went around the far turn, in fourth rather than near the back. The big, bay colt was on the rail and driving his heart out as the horses went down the stretch. In a final, heart-stopping lunge, Union Rags stuck his nose in front as they crossed the wire. He was finally victorious.
[Video: Watch Union Rags (#3) win the Belmont Stakes by a nose]
Matz began to prep Union Rags for the Haskell Invitational (G1) with his hopes high for the colt to get more victories. However, Union Rags sustained a tendon injury during a workout that would put him out for the rest of the season. Instead of racing him again as a four-year old, Union Rags was retired with his the Belmont Stakes being his final victory. Throughout his career he had maintained a record of 8:5-1-1 and earned over $1.7 million.
Union Rags went to his final home of Lane's End Farm in Kentucky where he would stand for $35,000 for his first season. Because of his ability to produce winners, he now stands for $60,000. Among his most notable progeny are Paradise Woods, Union Strike, Dancing Rags, Free Drop Billy, Tequilita, Patch, and Catalina Cruiser. His foals have brought up to $1 million in the sales ring.
Though Union Rags didn't get more time to prove himself on the racetrack, he had enough time to grace the lives of the people who needed him. For Michael Matz, Union Rags did what Barbaro had never had the chance to do - win the Belmont Stakes.
Mrs. Phyllis Wyeth passed away at age 78 on January 16, 2019. Union Rags had been everything she had ever wanted and more. Her love and dedication for her horses ran deep. How special and deserving it was for her to have a horse as good as Union Rags.
[Video: See Union Rags' Lane's End Farm stallion video]
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