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The following post appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.

The game victory by Union Rags in Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Stakes was also a triumph for the classic approach: to breeding, to pedigree, to training, and to character. In the end, Union Rags wanted the victory more, and he earned it.

And as some very knowledgeable breeders have told me, when looking down that long, long stretch at Belmont Park (or Churchill Downs, for that matter), it’s always a good thing for a racehorse to have some serious classic ancestors to help get him home.

Not surprisingly, then, the pedigree of Union Rags is littered with classic winners, including Northern Dancer, Native Dancer, Nashua, Bold Ruler, and Hyperion, as well as several Triple Crown winners. Two of the three last American Triple Crown winners, Secretariat and Seattle Slew, are in the colt’s fourth generation.

They descend through Secretariat’s stakes-winning daughter Secrettame, dam of Gone West, who is the broodmare sire of Union Rags, and through Seattle Slew’s champion son Capote, who is the broodmare sire of Dixie Union, the sire of the Belmont Stakes winner.

Now a G1 winner at 2 (Champagne) and a classic winner at 3, Union Rags is the most acclaimed son of Dixie Union, who spent nearly all of his stud career at Lane’s End Farm (he entered stud at the Diamond A Farm of his owner, Gerald Ford). The stallion’s classic success this year has a bittersweet quality because Dixie Union was euthanized on July 14, 2010, due to a “deteriorating neurologic problem.”

Winner of the G1 Haskell and Malibu at 3, Dixie Union was arguably the most talented son of his sire, the Northern Dancer horse Dixieland Band, who was central to the transformation of Lane’s End into a powerhouse operation for developing and standing stallions. Logically, then, the farm would have been highly motivated to stand a very good son of Dixieland Band, and Dixie Union had the further recommendations of being uncommonly good-looking, strong, correct, and fast.

Dixie Union had shown the level of his speed by maturing early enough at 2 to win the Hollywood Juvenile Championship and then carried his speed to win the Norfolk Stakes later that season.

The sire passed on his early maturity and high class to Union Rags, who won his début going five furlongs last July, then followed up with a victory in the Saratoga Special and the Champagne Stakes. Union Rags also resembles his sire in being very strong and very robustly made.

The physical stoutness derives from both sides of the Belmont winner’s pedigree. Although his broodmare sire Gone West was more medium-sized, he sometimes sired quite large foals, and the second dam of Union Rags is the rugged distance-racing mare Terpsichorist, who is a daughter of English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky.

The latter was a magnificently muscled beast who was able to defeat the fastest juveniles in sprints, then developed into a classic winner able to crush his competition from a mile to more than a mile and three-quarters.

That versatility seems part of the reason that Union Rags has found success in five of his eight races, along with his courage and athleticism.

A homebred for Phyllis Wyeth’s Chadds Ford Stable who was sold, then repurchased, Union Rags has proven a landmark in a family that has rewarded Wyeth’s family over the generations.

At the Hickory Tree Farm of Wyeth’s parents, James and Alice Mills, they raised some fine Thoroughbreds, including Terpsichorist and her highly regarded full brother, Gorytus. Both were out of the 1,000 Guineas winner Glad Rags, whom Mrs. Mills had purchased and then raced with great success.

In fact, Glad Rags became one of the foundation mares of the Hickory Tree program, and the stable also raced such outstanding horses as Gone West and champion juvenile Devil’s Bag.

Mrs. Mills bred both Terpsichorist and her daughter Tempo, who is the dam of Union Rags. As the last mare out of her mother’s grand chestnut daughter of Nijinsky, Tempo held a special significance for Wyeth, who had hoped that Union Rags would be a filly when he was foaled in Kentucky more than three years ago at the Royal Oak Farm of Braxton and Damian Lynch.

Although Union Rags was not the hoped-for filly, he has proven a splendid colt in physique and racing class.

In generosity of spirit and in his willingness to keep on trying, Union Rags has emulated the qualities of his owner-breeder. She pensioned the colt’s dam after his birth because the mare had had a difficult foaling in a previous year, and she did not wish to further risk the mare’s health and well-being.

Blessed by that concern for her animal’s welfare, Wyeth has been richly rewarded as her pride and joy rallied down the stretch at Belmont to add another classic to a rich family tradition.

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