Trainer Michael Matz will send Union Rags to the starting gate Saturday as the 2-1 morning line favorite of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Union Rags is the deserving favorite and he should be tough in the Juvenile. He comes in to the race undefeated in three starts including an eye- popping 7¼-length win in the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) and a 5¼-length win in the Champagne Stakes (G1).
Union Rags running style and pedigree indicate that he should be able to handle the stretch out to 8½-furlongs. The only questions are how well he’ll handle the 13-horse field and the start from post 10.
Dixie Union, the sire of Union Rags, was a precocious 2-year-old that won the Best Pal Stakes (G3), Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes (G3) and Norfolk Stakes (G2). As a 3-year-old, Dixie Union won the Haskell Invitational (G1) and Malibu Stakes (G1).
Creative Cause (7-2) is the best 2-year-old on the west coast and he should also be tough in the Juvenile. He comes into the race with three wins, including the Best Pal Stakes (G2) and Norfolk Stakes (G1), and a third-place finish in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), which was changed to a second-place finish due to interference from Majestic City in the final strides of the race.
Creative Cause is a young colt I’ve written about in his previous races and I really like him in the Juvenile. And he should get better as a 3-year-old.
Giant’s Causeway, the sire of Creative Cause, was undefeated in three starts as a two-year-old in Europe including a 2-length win in both the 7-furlong Futurity Stakes (Group 3) and the 7-furlong Prix de la Salamandre (Group 1).
Storm Cat, the grandsire of Creative Cause, is well known for siring precocious two-year-olds and he is the grandsire of Johannesburg – winner of the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Dream Of Summer, the dam of Creative Cause, was a multiple graded stakes winner who was competitive in sprint and route races up to 8½-furlongs and earned over $1 million during her racing career.
I don’t know if Alpha (15-1) will win but he should be competitive and he is the colt that most intrigues me in this race. Alpha has the best pedigree of any 2-year-old on the trail and if he lives up to his breeding, he should be a serious classic candidate next year.
His Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile, an index I use to measure classic potential, is a very good 97.5 – a score of 100 or more is excellent.
Bernardini, the sire of Alpha, was a Classic Champion Thoroughbred as were his grandsire, A. P. Indy and great grandsire Seattle Slew. Nijinsky, the damsire of Alpha, and Northern Dancer were also Classic Champion Thoroughbreds. Alydar, the sire of the second dam, would have been a Classic Champion Thoroughbred if it had not been for Affirmed.
Munnaya, the dam of Alpha, raced in England and won the 11-furlong Lingfield Oaks Trail Stakes and finished third in the 10-furlong Pretty Polly Stakes. The remaining four dams on the tail-female line – Hiaam, Kamar, Square Angel and Nangela – were all stakes winners. Kamar was the 1979 Canadian Champion 3-year-old filly and Square Angel was the 1973 Champion.
Alpha won his maiden debut by six lengths and was wheeled back a month later in the Champagne Stakes (G1) where he finished a respectable second to Union Rags.
I’ve seen horses with good pedigrees who failed to transfer their breeding to the racetrack and only time will tell how well Alpha fares on the Kentucky Derby trail. But Alpha should continue to improve as he gets older and I look for him to be competitive in the Juvenile.
Two other long shots I like are Drill (8-1) and Optimizer (15-1).
Drill finished eighth in his maiden debut but since then he has won two races, including the Del Mar Futurity (G1), and a second-place finish in the Norfolk Stakes (G1).
Lawyer Ron, the sire of Drill, won three races in 10 starts as a two-year-old including a 10-length romp in an one mile, 70-yard allowance race at Louisiana Downs and an 8½-length romp in the one mile Diamond Joe Stakes at Evangeline Downs.
The dam and grand dam of Drill were not that productive on the racetrack, but the third dam Water Dance won the Twilight Tear Stakes and placed in the Long Look Handicap (G2), Beaugay Handicap, Hannah Dustin Handicap and Miss Liberty Handicap.
Luiana, the fourth dam of Drill, was a Reine-de-Course producer of seven winners including Prayers'N Promises, winner of the Matron Stakes (G1) and Spinaway Stakes (G1), as well as the Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Little Current.
Optimizer has never been out of the money in three starts and his trainer D. Wayne Lukas knows how to get young colts to the winners circle.
English Channel, the sire of Optimizer, was the 2007 Eclipse Champion Turf Male and a multiple Graded Stakes winner who was competitive from 10 to 12-furlongs. Belmont Stakes winner and Sire of Sires A. P. Indy is the damsire of Optimizer.
Indy Pick, the dam of Optimizer, was not stakes placed but had had 2-1-1 record in 6 starts. Fantastic Find, the second dam of Optimizer, won the Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap and placed in several other Graded Stakes races.
Good luck with your Breeders’ Cup picks.