Union Rags One to Beat in Florida Derby
By Ellis Starr - National Racing Analyst for Equibase
The 61st running of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby drew a field of nine, led by Union Rags, the leading contender for the Kentucky Derby at this stage who is coming off a strong four length win in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last month. The biggest challenge to Union Rags may not come from Fountain of Youth runner-up News Pending or others that ran in the race, but rather from Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes winner El Padrino, who is two-for-two in his sophomore campaign. Take Charge Indy was making his first start as a three-year-old in late January and finished second in an allowance race (behind El Padrino before he won the Risen Star) and thus has potential for improvement. Reveron won the Gulfstream Park Derby in January then regressed to be third in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes but might be competitive with his best effort. Bartolome, Fort Loudon, Neck 'n Neck and Z Camelot round out the field.
Union Rags has four victories and a head defeat in his five race career to date, that one loss coming to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, an effort in which he earned a career best 110 Equibase Speed Figure. Returning for his three-year-old campaign last month in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Union Rags was impressive in victory by four lengths in ridden-out fashion, earning a 104 figure that has the potential to be improved upon in his second start of the year. In fact, the last two speed figures Union Rags has earned are higher than any horse in the Florida Derby field have ever earned, making him the one to beat in this key Kentucky Derby prep race.
Take Charge Indy finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall but earned a career best 100 in the process and improved his figure for the third consecutive time since his six length debut win in July. Returning to the races nearly three months later on January 29, Take Charge Indy led in the stretch by one and one-half lengths before being run down by El Padrino, who was also returning from a two month layoff and who validated that effort by improving again to win the Risen Star in his second start of the year. In the same way, Take Charge Indy can improve markedly in his second start of the year and might have a big impact in the Florida Derby.
El Padrino has improved his figure in every start since his debut, starting with an 81 figure last August and ending with a 101 figure in winning the Risen Star. Making his third start of the year and with improving to do, El Padrino certainly could have what it takes to post the mild upset over favored Union Rags and not only win the Florida Derby but also stamp himself as a top contender for the Run for the Roses in five weeks.
News Pending earned a 98 figure when second to Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth and that is worth noting as it was his second 98 figure effort in a row. He will need to improve to run as well as either of the three contenders listed above but as he's trained by Dale Romans, who had good success with Shackleford in last year's big three-year-old races, News Pending cannot be totally counted out.
Likewise for Reveron, who won the Gulfstream Park Derby with a career best 100 figure in January then made the lead in the stretch of the Sam F. Davis Stakes, only to hang a bit and settle for third with a 92 figure. Considering Davis runner-up Prospective came back to win the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, Reveron is another with an outside chance for success in the Florida Derby.
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