Union Rags back in style

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH S. | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16- MILES

Union Rags made a smashing return to action and solidified his status as the early favorite for the 138th Kentucky Derby by romping to victory Sunday in the 68th running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

With Julien Leparoux aboard for the first time, Union Rags was never struck with the whip when prevailing by four lengths over News Pending. Discreet Dancer was 2 1/2 lengths farther back, holding off Neck 'n Neck by a half-length for third.

Union Rags, owned by Chadds Ford Stable and trained by Michael Matz, returned $4.40 to win after finishing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42.68 over a fast track.

"I'm just so happy right now," said Matz. "It's just great to be back."

The Fountain of Youth was widely seen as a two-horse race, with Discreet Dancer the 4-5 favorite over Union Rags at 6-5. Casual Trick was the 8-1 third choice, and none of the four other 3-year-olds were lower than 25-1.

Discreet Dancer never got an easy lead when pressed by News Pending through fractions of 24.50, 48.11, and 1:12:05. Leaving the far turn, Union Rags, always in the clear, swooped past them and easily drew off, giving him his fourth victory from five career starts. The Dixie Union colt was making his first start since finishing a close second to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November at Churchill Downs.

The race lost much of its drama early Sunday when it was announced that Algorithms, the morning-line favorite, was scratched after popping a splint in his right foreleg. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the colt will miss several days of training and his status toward the Derby is still being evaluated.

Javier Castellano had been the regular rider for both Union Rags and Algorithms but chose the latter, allowing Leparoux to pick up the mount on Union Rags.

The $2 exacta (7-6) paid $62.20; the $1 trifecta (7-6-5) paid $62.90; and the $1 superfecta (7-6-5-1) paid $280.70.