Matz: Union Rags unaffected by loss

Posted: April 01, 2012

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Horse trainer Michael Matz woke up Sunday about 4 a.m. and, as he always does, looked at his phone. He's got an app on the phone attached to a camera outside the stall of his big horse, Union Rags.

"He was just laying down in the stall, laying there with his head on the side, just really resting," Matz said later Sunday morning. "When he's like that, he really takes care of himself well."

On Saturday, Union Rags had finished third as the 2-5 favorite in the Florida Derby. The next morning, Matz still was chewing that one over. The horse remains the Kentucky Derby Future Book favorite, so how Union Rags came out of the race was an issue. Matz said everything is fine.

"He looked a little bit dull in the stall, and then we took him out and walked him a little bit, took him to the paddock, and he wasn't too dull - he was pretty full of himself, which you like to see," Matz said, sitting in his office at the Palm Meadows training facility. "I think he's one of those horses that can - when he's turned off, he can be really turned off [and] when he's turned on, he's turned on."

On Saturday, jockey Julien Leparoux, riding Union Rags for the second time, said he had put the colt in the wrong spot early, getting caught in a box.

"I think he's that good of a horse that Julien has to realize maybe he has to use him a little bit more in the beginning to get to [a good stalking] spot," Matz said. "And hopefully, don't get him in trouble because I think he was that much better than all those horses. I think [Leparoux] is probably kicking himself more than anybody. . . . Maybe he just thought he was on way the best horse."

Matz said maybe this race set up Union Rags well for the next one, at Churchill Downs on May 5. Matz, who lives outside Coatesville and trained 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, said the jockey also has to recognize that others will be gunning for him, as Javier Castellano did Saturday on El Padrino, who stayed outside of Union Rags along the backside and ultimately finished fourth.

Matz pointed out that Take Charge Indy, the Florida Derby winner, controlled the pace to the point that through six furlongs, the pace was two seconds slower than it had been for the Gulfstream Oaks. That allowed jockey Calvin Borel to take 8-1 Take Charge Indy to the wire on a day that favored front-runners.

"I think what I've got to take out of this, the horse came out of it good, he probably only ran a half a mile, a quarter of a mile, maybe even an eighth of a mile," Matz said. "Two strides after the wire, he's out in front of everybody."

Matz held up his phone to show the live shot of his horse. A company - no doubt realizing Matz had the top 3-year-old in the country - had installed two cameras and an app for him.

"They wanted it to advertise, and Phyllis can put it on her iPhone," Matz said, referring to Union Rags owner Phyllis Wyeth of Chadds Ford. "She can see the horse."

She also realizes - as does Matz - that her horse has lost twice in six lifetime starts by a total of less than two lengths, and those two lengths were worth $900,000 in purse differences. And those two lengths weren't lost in the stretch. Union Rags was moving on the eventual winner in both defeats.

"Sometimes the first turn is the most important part," Matz said.

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus

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