We're more than a month from the Kentucky Derby, but the jostling has begun.
A horse named Take Charge Indy won the $1 million, Grade 1 Florida Derby with a wire-to-wire dash under the ever-daring Calvin Borel Saturday. Reveron gave him a run coming around the final turn but could not sustain it.
The race many had expected to be watching -- and learning from -- happened within a tight pack of horses just off the lead. There, heavy favorite Union Rags seemed agitated by his lack of room to run. Trained by Michael Matz -- of Barbaro fame -- the colt did get open space for a final, promising push. He finished third.
El Pedrino, a Todd Pletcher entry ridden by former Union Rags jockey Javier Castellano, spent much of the race running with Union Rags and played a part in boxing him in. You can watch the race at the Daily Racing Forum's web site.
Union Rags' current jockey, Julien Leparoux, expressed dismay at the attention his horse received from other riders. But Matz turned the discussion another way. From the DRF:
“We were in traffic and they were riding me,” said Leparoux. “It was just bad luck. Nobody paid any attention to the winner. They let him go. I guess they just target the favorite.”
Matz, the trainer of Union Rags, said Leparoux “said he was disappointed in himself, not the horse.”
“He said he should have been closer to the pace the way the track is,” Matz said. “Riders make mistakes."
Early indications are that Union Rags will continue to be the Derby favorite; what happened Saturday seemed like either a troubled trip without proper guidance for the course or an abberation.
There's another important prep race Sunday, this one taking place in a city on which many sports fans are focused: New Orleans. The Grade II Louisiana Derby will be run where there just happens to be plenty of Kentuckians roaming around, thanks to Saturday's Final Four game between Kentucky and Louisville (won by the Wildcats.) Mark Valeski and Cigar Street are the two horses generating the most buzz heading into that race.
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