LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Trainer Michael Matz hopes Union Rags takes him back to the place where he had his greatest success five years ago with Barbaro.
Union Rags is a 2-1 morning line favorite in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Saturday. The winner will assume the role of early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby.
"He's just been a dream to train. He's got everything you'd want in a racehorse," Matz said. "He's fast, he finds a way to get out of trouble and he's got a great mind."
Matz trained Barbaro, who ran away with the Derby in 2006 before he shattered his leg two weeks later in the Preakness and eventually had to be euthanized in January 2007.
But Union Rags, owned by Chadds Ford Stable, is more race-tested than Barbaro was at this point in his career.
Union Rags won in his first career start at Delaware Park in July, then captured the Grade 2 Saratoga Special by 7 1/4 lengths in August before another easy victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in October to remain undefeated.
"When we entered him in the five-eighths race (at Delaware Park July 12), we were thinking that we just wanted to see a good effort because a race is worth several works," Matz said. "He did more than we expected, which is why I put him in the Saratoga Special. He's very mature for his age. He just has pure raw talent with common sense."
Following the win in the Champagne, Matz said when he brought Union Rags back to Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, the horse was eager to continue working.
"He came out of his last race great," Matz said. "We took him back to Fair Hill that night and he ate right up. The next morning he was looking for me."
Barbaro didn't start until October of his 2-year-old season and didn't run on dirt until February before the Derby in May.
"At this same point, Barbaro had only made one start," Matz said.
Union Rags' biggest competition among the field of 13 is likely to come from Creative Cause (7-2) and Drill (8-1), who boast Grade 1 wins in California on their resumes. Creative Cause won the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita and Drill took the Del Mar Futurity by 3 1/4 lengths.
"He'll be in a stalking position through most of the race and then make his run," Creative Cause trainer Mike Harrington said.
Alpha (15-1) will also get a rematch against Union Rags after being beaten by more than five lengths in the Champagne.
"I hope he breaks better and is a lot closer," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "I really think he'll improve off the Champagne. I'm hoping he'll improve a good seven lengths."
Union Rags' biggest question comes with his inexperience. The 1 1-16-mile Juvenile will be his first attempt at two turns. Matz doesn't believe that will have a lot to do with the outcome, noting that Union Rags has already run at various tracks and distances.
"He's had three races at three different tracks with three different styles," Matz said. "We just hope he has a good trip and doesn't have to go too wide in the first turn."
Union Rags will leave from the No. 10 post.
Matz only has one other victory in the Breeders' Cup, winning in 2006 with Round Pond in the Distaff that's now called the Ladies' Classic. His horse Somali Lemonade finished sixth Friday in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
That sets the stage for Union Rags and Saturday's race with rider Javier Castellano."He's great," Matz said. "We're ready."