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Kentucky Derby notebook: Union Rags pinched at start, fails to be a factor

ErVangari Louisville Ky. wears fancy hpaddock before 138th Kentucky Derby horse race Churchill Downs Saturday May 5 2012 Louisville Ky.

Erin Vangari of Louisville, Ky., wears a fancy hat in the paddock before the 138th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 5, 2012, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Union Rags never had a chance after a brutal start in the Kentucky Derby.

The Dixie Union colt ridden by Julien Leparoux was pinched back at the break and caught in-between rivals that cost him early position after being one of the most talked about contenders coming into Saturday’s race

“He broke a step a step slow and he usually breaks well from the gate,” Leparoux said. “Then he got bumped and we dropped far back.”

That was only the half of it.

After Union Rags settled into stride, Leparoux had trouble finding a clear running path.

“I had nowhere to go where I could make a move,” Leparoux said. “I knew it was going to be tough to come back.”

The winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes eventually rallied from 18th to finish seventh.

“He just had a rough trip,” trainer Michael Matz said.

Tarnished gem

Gemologist failed to run his winning streak to six.

The horse trained by Todd Pletcher had won twice at Churchill Downs, but expectations were tempered because of weak competition. Against an especially deep field in the Kentucky Derby, he was fifth until the final half-mile when he fell off the pace and finished 16th.

“I had a beautiful trip. I saved all the ground into the first turn, very comfortable down the backside,” jockey Javier Castellano said. “We were able to relax right behind the speed. Unfortunately, I don’t know why he didn’t run his race.”

Castellano thought the 85-degree heat might’ve had hurt Gemologist, while WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden searched for answers.

“He didn’t run much. It’s very disappointing,” Walden said. “He just didn’t show up.”

Day of disappointment

Last year’s Kentucky Derby-winning group failed to pull a repeat with Went the Day Well after its previous success with Animal Kingdom.

Team Valor Inernational, trainer Graham Motion and jockey John Velazquez looked to be the first owner-trainer-jockey combination to repeat in the Derby since 1973.

But Went the Day Well fell as far back as 17th before closing to finish fourth in a crowded start.

“We didn’t break out of there well and it was screwed up from there on,” Velazquez said. “The horse next to me clipped heels coming out of the gate, so now I’ve got to steady and go inside of him.

“We go to the first turn, and he gets pushed over and I have to steady again.”

Velazquez called it a bad trip, but far from his worse.

“Not at all,” Velazquez said. “I just got shut off.”

Injured Indy?

Trainer Pat Byrne is concerned that Take Charge Indy might have suffered an injury in the Kentucky Derby.

The Florida Derby winner finished 19th. Jockey Calvin Borel, a three-time Derby winner, felt the horse might have had a breathing problem.

Byrne is more concerned with the colt’s legs.

“He’s walking a little gingerly in his left front,” Byrne said. “We probably need to X-ray the ankle.”

Byrne is hoping the problem is nothing serious.

“It’s disappointing but we move on,” he said. “We know it wasn’t a talent issue. Something obviously went wrong.”

Take Charge Indy owners Chuck and Maribeth Sandford live in Marengo, Ill.

Rosie returns

Jockey Rosie Napravnik was back at Belmont Park on Saturday less than 24 hours after she became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks.

Napravnik was aboard Believe You Can on Friday in the Derby’s counterpart for 3-year-old fillies.

“It’s just been a whirlwind — I haven’t had a chance to sit down and relax yet,” said Napravnik, who returned to finish third on Wildcat Frankie at Belmont, her first race home since her victory. “After the (Oaks) I had over 100 text messages, along with voicemails, Twitter, Facebook messages. We’ve been getting tons of support.”

Napravnik said she had flight delays from her scheduled early morning flight because the plane needed repairs and ended up being three hours late to the park.

“It was a bit of a rough morning,” she said. “It was lucky for me that my first two mounts today at Belmont were scratched, because I wouldn’t have made it.”

Believe it

Believe You Can received extra attention on Saturday as trainer Larry Jones’ newest star filly following the Oaks win.

“She’s wanting treats and she thinks she deserves some reward,” Jones said. “She gets all kind of peppermints, carrots, sweet potatoes, you name it. Whatever she wants, she’s pretty well going to get.

“She ate every bite of her supper, so right now we’re good. She looks bright and happy.”

Jones doesn’t know what will be next for Believe You Can, but will point the 3-year-old to the Mother Goose on July 21. Believe You Can is now the fifth winner in the last eight Kentucky Oaks to also have won the Fair Grounds Oaks.

“There is no better place to prep,” Jones said. “What can you say? It works.”

It had been an especially tough time recently for Jones after his wife, Cindy, was kicked by a yearling and broke three ribs, an arm and dislocated her shoulder. Then, Havre de Grace had a career-ending injury in training last month before colt Mark Valeski was pulled out of Kentucky Derby consideration Tuesday.

Jones believes his luck may be changing.

“May’s turning around,” Jones said. “Maybe we’ll be OK.”

Star power

The 138th Kentucky Derby had no shortage of athletes.

Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn trod the red carpet leading into the historic track on Saturday wearing 6-inch heels, while New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick came to check out the horses.

A few minutes after Belichick entered, a group of defensive linemen — Chris Canty of the New York Giants, University of Louisville alum and Chicago Bears tackle Amobi Okoye and Connor Barwin of the Houston Texans made an appearance. Tennessee Titans defense end Kamerion Wimbley followed a short time later

Tennis players Andre Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf, arrived to cheers from the crowds.

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