Union Rags: Preserving a Family's Thoroughbred Racing Legacy
By New York Racing Association
ELMONT, N.Y. – When Union Rags attempts to run his record to 4-for-4 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5, it will be the result of Phyllis Wyeth’s recent efforts to preserve her family’s thoroughbred racing legacy.
The colt will carry the colors of Wyeth’s Chadds Ford Stable in the Breeders’ Cup, but only because Wyeth had the foresight to buy the colt back at auction earlier this year after selling him as a yearling.
Wyeth, the wife of acclaimed painter Jamie Wyeth, is the daughter of Richard P. Mills and Alice du Pont Mills, who campaigned horses such as Devil’s Bag and Gone West under their Hickory Tree Stables banner prior to their respective deaths in 1987 and 2002.
One of the less distinguished horses who raced for Hickory Tree Stables was a daughter of Gone West named Tempo. She made three starts from 1995-97, winning the first two and finishing second in her final start, an Aqueduct Racetrack allowance race won by Quiet Dance, who later produced 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
“Tempo wasn’t that sound of a horse, but she had shown a lot of ability,” said Russell Jones, a retired bloodstock agent who remains close friends with Phyllis Wyeth.
Phyllis retained Tempo as a broodmare following Alice’s death, with the mare’s first five foals all going on to become winners. The best of the group was Geefour, a Dixie Union gelding who won four races, placed in a stakes at Philadelphia Park, and earned $159,092.
“Geefour also had physical issues that stopped him from being a good horse,” said Jones.
Encouraged by the potential Tempo and Geefour had shown, Wyeth bred the mare back to Dixie Union in 2008, and the resulting foal was a bay colt later named Union Rags. He would be Tempo’s final foal prior to her retirement from broodmare duty.
Wyeth decided to sell Union Rags as a yearling, with the colt being purchased by IEAH Stables for $145,000 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings sale.
Wyeth, however, developed a case of seller’s remorse and sent Jones to Fasig-Tipton’s sale at Palm Meadows in February with instructions to visually inspect Union Rags, now a 2-year-old, and to bid on the colt if he was pleased with what he saw.
“I told her what the horse had grown into, and she wanted me to buy him back,” said Jones. “I told her he was going to cost a lot more than what she had sold him for, but she still wanted to have a crack at him. We were hoping to buy him for $350,000 to $400,000, and fortunately he ended up in that range.”
Jones secured the colt for $390,000, and Union Rags has already more than recouped his purchase price, having earned $498,800 to date, including a $200,000 bonus for becoming the first graduate of the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale to capture a graded stakes at Saratoga Race Course when he won the Grade 2 Three Chimneys Saratoga Special by 7 ¼ lengths in August. His other victories are a 1 ¾-length debut score at Delaware Park in July and a 5 ¼-length romp in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park earlier this month.
Union Rags’ 2-year-old success has been a function of the colt’s physical ability as well as his intelligence and maturity, Jones said.
“He’s an attractive-looking horse and is balanced, with good legs and limbs,” said Jones. “He looks like a sound horse, and he has an exceptionally good mind and can handle himself without using a lot of energy.”
In addition to buying back Union Rags from a 2-year-old sale, Wyeth has been working to preserve the thoroughbred families her parents had developed. In April, she claimed Miss Pauline, a 6-year-old half-sister to Union Rags who had won six races and earned $207,867, for $7,500 at Parx Racing. As a yearling, Miss Pauline had been sold at auction for $13,000 by Jones’ Walnut Green bloodstock agency on behalf of Wyeth. She’s now part of Wyeth’s six-horse broodmare band.
“Tempo is now retired, and [Wyeth] wanted to have a younger member of the family,” said Jones. “She had sold Miss Pauline as a yearling, so she claimed her back and now she’s in foal to Jump Start.”
Jones said a win by Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile would not only conclude a perfect 2-year-old season and make him the favorite for the Eclipse Award for Champion 2-Year-Old Male, but would also be a fitting tribute to Richard P. Mills and Alice du Pont Mills.
“[Wyeth] has been committed in a small way to stay in racing and keep the family’s families in play,” said Jones. “She’s trying to continue what her parents started. Let’s just keep our luck going and hope the racing gods continue to smile on us.”