The Brock Talk

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Favorite Union Rags Faces Formidable Foes In Alpha, Creative Cause and Drill

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is always just a little bit more exciting than many of its counterparts. Sure the $2 million purse adds some additional prestige, but it is the potential of producing horse racing’s next super star that attracts us. Like the annual Senior Bowl in college football or high school’s McDonald’s All-American basketball game, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is that last showcase event of the year for many of these 2-year-old thoroughbreds. Next stop: the road to the Kentucky Derby.

The favorite in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is the undefeated Union Rags (photo right). After breaking his maiden at Delaware Park in July, he easily won the 6-1/2 furlong Saratoga Special (gr. 2) in August and the one mile Champagne Stakes (gr. 1) at Belmont Park in October. His sire, the deceased Dixie Union, was fifth in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind long shot winner Anees ($62.60) and counted the 1-1/8 Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) among his multiple grade 1 wins. Dixie Union also sired Dixie Chatter, winner of the 1-1/16 Norfolk (gr. 1); and 1-1/8 mile Pennsylvania Derby (gr. 2) winner Gone Astray, so the 1-1/16 mile distance in the Juvenile should be of little concern.

After winning the Saratoga Special from the front while laying back in the Champagne, Union Rags has the versatile running style that will be among his biggest assets. In the six previous runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, none of the winners have gone gate-to-wire. Union Rags also showed the ability to overcome adversity in the Champagne (his comment line in the official Daily Racing Form chart for the Champagne is eight lines long). After all that trouble that lasted until deep stretch when he was finally swung out into the clear, Union Rags still defeated fellow Juvenile runner Alpha by five and one-quarter lengths.

Union Rags will be saddled by trainer Michael Matz, best known as the conditioner of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner and ill-fated Barbaro. Matz also has a perfect record in the Breeders’ Cup having won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies Classic) with Round Pond – his only other Breeders’ Cup starter.

Second choice in the morning line at 7-2 is Creative Cause from Southern California. Unlike Union Rags, Creative Cause has a blemish on his record, finishing third in grade 1 Del Mar Futurity behind winner Drill. A closer look at the Del Mar Futurity shows that perhaps Creative Cause should be undefeated after being cut off by Majestic City. Creative Cause was placed second through disqualification, but the spotless record was gone.

The grey/roan Creative Cause comes into the Juvenile off of a nice win in the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, avenging the loss to Drill at Del Mar. Creative Cause took the lead at the top of the stretch in the Norfolk and this time got the jump on Drill, the odds-on 3-5 Norfolk favorite. Being by Giant’s Causeway and out of Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. 1) winner and racing millionaire Dream of Summer, Creative Cause comes from an accomplished family. His obstacle might be trainer Mike Harrington and his 9% winning clip.

Undeterred by running second in the Norfolk, trainer Bob Baffert (photo left) comes to the Juvenile with Drill. Looking for his third Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after winning with Vindication in 2006 and Midshipman two years later, Baffert is also fourth in Breeders’ Cup earnings with more than $10.7 million. Baffert has taken the blinkers off of Drill for the Juvenile, indicating he might want Drill to make a late run down the long Churchill Downs stretch instead of staying within striking distance throughout.

The likely front runner will be Hansen, an impressive 13-1/4 length winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile over Turfway Park’s Polytrack main track. Coming off the artificial surface is of less concern being that Animal Kingdom, winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, also came to Churchill Downs in May after winning at Turfway Park. Also a winner of a maiden race at Turfway by 12-1/4 lengths, the Michael Maker-trained Hansen will need a large lead to hold off the late challengers expected in the Juvenile.

Another coming into the Juvenile off of a victory over Polytrack is Dullahan. The Dale Romans-trainee travels to Churchill Downs from Keeneland where he won the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. 1) over Creative Cause’s Del Mar nemisis Majestic City in second; and fellow Juvenile runner Optimizer in third. Of concern about Dullahan are his two failed attempts to break his maiden in June and July. Both races were at Churchill on the main track. Perhaps grass and artificial surfaces are more to Dullahan’s liking. On the other hand, Dullahan’s half-brother, Mine That Bird, was quite fond of Churchill.

At 15-1, Alpha needs consideration as well. He was well beaten by Union Rags in the Champagne, but suffered through a bad start and other traffic problems throughout that race. He broke his maiden by six lengths at Saratoga and comes from the barn of high percentage trainer Kairan McLaughlin.

The more one studies this race, the more Union Rags begins to separate from this group. While sire Dixie Union might not help Union Rags at 1-1/4 (10 furlongs), the mile and one-sixteenth Juvenile should be no problem. Creative Cause looks like a potential challenger, but the Breeders’ Cup is a big show that can illuminate a weakness like Harrington’s low winning percentage. I’ll have Drill and Alpha at higher odds on any multi race tickets.

Brock’s Picks
#10 Union Rags
#9 Alpha
#4 Drill

NYRA photo of Union Rags by Adam Coglianese

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