Now or never for Union Rags
Updated: May 5, 2012, 3:05 AM ETBy Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com
I am giving Union Rags one more chance. But just one more chance.
I have been a big believer in this horse since his electric win in the Champagne last year as a 2-year-old. He seemed to be the kind of horse we got back in the day when the sport produced stars like Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid. Union Rags was the best 2-year-old in the country and he would go on to be the best 3-year-old. He would show up in all the big races, stay healthy, and win a lot more than he lost. He would not be some horse that came out of nowhere to win the Kentucky Derby and then go 1-for-9 the rest of the way. So he was beaten in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He had a wide trip, lost a ton of ground and still lost by only a head to a good horse named Hansen. He reaffirmed my optimism in the Fountain of Youth. He was dominant under his new rider, a confident Julien Leparoux, and won by four lengths. There didn't seem to be anything standing in his path to greatness when he came into the Florida Derby, where he was the 2-5 favorite. Surely, he would again dominate and then head to Churchill Downs as the solid favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Didn't happen. Again, we blamed the trip. Union Rags was boxed in for the better part of a mile and by the time he got running room it was too late. A poor ride by Leparoux? Another loss, another excuse. Still, he didn't win, he finished third, and that's the bottom line. Should he have found a way to overcome adversity and win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile? Was the acceleration really there when he finally found a hole in the Florida Derby? What I see now is a horse that is very talented but, maybe, not much of a fighter. Is Union Rags a little soft? That's the question he must answer Saturday at Churchill Downs. I'm sticking with my first impressions, that the only thing that stands between this horse and an undefeated record is racing luck. But I must admit my confidence has waned. There will be no excuses allowed this time.
AP PhotoUnion Rags stretches his legs in a work on the main track at Churchill.
In The Gate Podcast
Pre-Derby interviews with 3-time winning jockey Calvin Borel (Take Charge Indy) & trainer Mike Maker (Hansen). Analysis by Bill Finley, plus a Barry Abrams commentary.
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