HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Union Rags and El Padrino were made the top two morning-line choices Wednesday for Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
Both colts are ready to put on display a newfound maturity as they head down the road to the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Chadds Ford Stable's Union Rags is the 6-5 favorite in the 11⁄8-mile race.
The Michael Matz-trained colt enters Saturday's race off an imposing 4-length win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 26 at Gulfstream. That race marked Union Rags' first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, when he finished second by a head to Hansen.
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"He had some unfortunate problems in the Breeders' Cup, but I think it was an isolated incident," Matz said. "He's more mature physically and mentally than he was as a 2-year-old, and I think it showed in his last race. I asked (jockey) Julien (Leparoux) if there was anything we need to work on after the race and he said 'not really. When I ask him to wait, he waits. When I ask him to go, he goes.'"
Union Rags' chief rival in the race is Let's Go Stable's El Padrino, who won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes in his last outing on Jan. 29 at Fair Grounds.
"He's becoming more and more professional," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It's nice to know that he's capable of sitting behind horses and taking some dirt when he's down inside, and that when he gets in a situation that he needs to find more, he can come up with it."
The nine-horse field for the Florida Derby also includes two horses from the barn of trainer Dale Romans: News Pending and Z Camelot.
Filly faces big testin Dubai World Cup
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bill Mott will be looking for another first when his filly Royal Delta runs in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer won the first Dubai World Cup in 1996 with two-time Horse of the Year Cigar.
Now, Royal Delta has a chance to become the first filly to win the world's richest horse race. Mott says the distance and track surface at Meydan Racecourse fits Royal Delta and welcomes the challenge of testing his 4-year-old against So You Think, Game On Dude and Smart Falcon.
"Coming back, it's a big challenge," Mott said. "It's the biggest prize in racing right now. Naturally if you like competition, that is where you want to be."
Mott said returning to Dubai came down to "having a horse in the barn good enough to come," noting Royal Delta had a strong last year, including a win in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs last November.
"She sort of earned her way into it," he said of the Eclipse Award-winning filly. "It is not something that we imagined, that she is good enough. She's done what we asked to do at home. The challenge is how she matches up with an international field. That is what this is all about."
Asked about the prospects of a filly winning, Mott said, "Coming over here, we know they will bring the best of the best, and we're going to have some very good horses in the race," he said. "The only thing we can hope for is that our own does very well."
Royal Delta, who will be ridden by Jose Lezcano, faces 13 males in the World Cup, including Game on Dude and early favorite So You Think.
Also in the international field is Master of Hounds, Eishin Flash, Zazou, Smart Falcon, Planteur, Monterosso, Silver Pond, Transcend, Capponi, Prince Bishop and Mendip.
The nine-race World Cup card features 123 horses and is worth $27.25 million.
After Wednesday's draw, in which Royal Delta drew the No. 7 post, Mott said his filly's chances.
"It's the middle of the field," he said. "She'll get a good look at the field from there and No. 7 has been our lucky number. We'd love for her to win. I can't predict the outcome but she is doing really well — well enough to win a race like this."