Union Rags Likes Taste Of Champagne
UNION RAGS LIKES TASTE OF CHAMPAGNE
Kentucky, here I come. That was the message sent by thoroughbred racing's new superstar, the 2-year-old colt Union Rags, who burst through a traffic jam at the top of the stretch to win yesterday's Grade 1, $300,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park by 5 1/4 lengths.
The son of Dixie Union, unbeaten in three starts including the Saratoga Special by 7 1/4 lengths, will head to Churchill Downs for the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he will be favored to clinch the 2-year-old championship.
More importantly, Union Rags is now the early favorite for the 2012 Kentucky Derby, a race his trainer, Michael Matz, won in 2006 with the star-crossed Barbaro.
After taking back off the early pace in the Champagne, Union Rags began a steady advance inside around the far turn under Javier Castellano. Trapped behind a wall of horses turning for home, Castellano looked to go outside, switched back inside, then changed lanes again looking for running room. Union Rags finally found a hole, then split horses with decisive acceleration to seize the lead and draw clear in 1:35.55 for the mile, paying $4.40 as the favorite. Alpha rallied for second.
"He's an amazing horse," Castellano said. "A big horse with a huge stride. Nothing bothers him. He got dirt in the face, was blocked all the way on the trip. When he saw the clear, he took off."
The two Grade 1 stakes preceding the Champagne were part of the afternoon's subplot, the Corey Nakatani show, in which the 40-year-old transplant from southern California won six races -- tying the record for the most wins by a jockey at Belmont on a single card.
Going into the Grade 1, $250,000 Jamaica Handicap, at 1 miles on turf for 3-year-olds, Nakatani had won with his first four mounts: Tapizar ($9.30) in the first race, Precious Metal ($8.10) in the second, Monzante ($11) in the fourth (all three trained by Steve Asmussen) and Two Months Rent ($9.70) in the fifth.
In the Jamaica, Nakatani was riding Euro-invader Western Aristocrat, 7-1 making his U.S. debut for trainer Jeremy Noseda after six starts in England. He sent him right to the front and set a leisurely pace, pressed by even-money favorite Brilliant Speed.
Around the far turn, John Velazquez sent Brilliant Speed after Western Aristocrat. Those two dueled to the top of the stretch, when Western Aristocrat took command again and galloped home to win by a length in 1:50.34, paying $16.
A half-hour later, Nakatani -- call him the anti-A-Rod -- went 6-for-6 aboard the Steve Asmussen-trained 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia in the Grade 1, $300,000 Frizette. Unbeaten in two starts at Saratoga, including the Grade 2 Adirondack, My Miss Aurelia set the pace pressed by Spare Change, with even-money favorite Stopshoppingmaria right in behind those two.
When they hit the top of the stretch, My Miss Aurelia turned on the after-burners and quickly spurted clear. As Spare Change folded, Stopshoppingmaria kicked in. But by then, My Miss Aurelia was long gone, winning by 5½ lengths in 1:35.22 for the mile to pay $6.50.
"(Tying the record at Belmont) is an accomplishment I never dreamed of getting the opportunity to do," Nakatani said. "I've always loved Belmont, and the trainers and owners have been great supporters of mine through the years.
"With things looking like they are in California, I decided to move back here, get my family back here and make this home. It's unbelievable. Days like today, they don't come around often. I love New York."
by Ed Fountaine
On the New York worktab
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner More Than Real (More Than Ready), who exits a good third in the Grade 1 Garden City, breezed four furlongs in :48 1/5 over the fast training track at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Stakes winner and Grade 2 Suburban Handicap runner-up Hymn Book (Arch), sixth in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch last out, logged a half-mile in :49 4/5 on the main track.
Grade 3 victor Nordic Truce (Yes It's True), unplaced in his last two starts versus graded rivals, traveled five furlongs in 1:00 4/5.
Redeemed (Include), runner-up in the Smarty Jones and Grade 2 Amsterdam in his last two outings, breezed six furlongs in 1:13 on the fast track at Aqueduct.
Center Divider (Giant's Causeway), runner-up in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap last out, completed five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 on the fast Oklahoma training track in Saratoga.
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