Giving both 25-year-old trainer Shelbe Ruis and freshman sire Union Rags their first stakes winners, Ruis Racing's Union Strike came roaring down the stretch to win Saturday's Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante for 2-year-old fillies under jockey Martin Garcia by 2 1/4 lengths. In just her second start and first career victory, Union Strike defeated American Pharoah's full sister, American Cleopatra, the 8-5 favorite who had taken command at the top of the stretch, with Champagne Room third and Noted and Quoted fourth in the field of seven.
Time for seven furlongs on a fast track was 1:23.22.
“It's crazy, crazy cool. A lot of hard work,” said Mick Ruiz, the father of the winning trainer who has made a significant investment in high-end bloodstock over the last year.
Union Strike, who finished second to American Cleopatra in her only previous start – a July 31 maiden race at Del Mar – broke sharply, then raced in fourth position as Morganite rushed up to take command early, getting the opening quarter mile in :22.16 and the half in :45.25. She gave way on the turn as American Cleopatra and Champagne Room moved to the lead, while Garcia put Union Strike to a full-out drive with a quarter mile to run.
American Cleopatra led with a furlong to run, the six furlongs in 1:10.13, but Union Strike's long strides carried her to the lead as she pulled away in the final strides despite Garcia losing his whip at the furlong grounds.
She became the third maiden to capture the Debutante. Cindy's Hero accomplished the feat in 2000 and Sweet Catomine duplicated the achievement in 2004.
Bred in Kentucky by Pollock Farms, Brian Kahn and Taylor Brothers Property, Union Strike was produced from the Smart Strike mare, Classic Strike. She first sold for $170,000 as a weanling at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, where McMahon and Hill Bloodstock purchased her from Taylor Made Sales Agency. Entered in the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Union Strike was bought back by consignor Hidden Brook, agent, for $130,000, then was purchased by Ruis Racing for $375,000 at the OBS April Sale of 2-year-olds in training, where she was consigned by Old South Farm.
(To learn more about Shelbe Ruis and her father, Mick Ruis, click here.)
“No special instructions for me today; they just said 'Keep her happy,'” said Garcia. “I've worked this filly the last few times and I broke her out of the gate one time (Aug. 22, 5f 1:00hg). Something wasn't quite right. The gateman (assistant starter) suggested we try a different bit on her. The one they were using was too strong. So they made the change and it's made a big difference. She was a runner today. And I think the farther they go, the better she's going to be.”
“She's a nice filly and everything went pretty smooth getting her ready for this race,” Shelbe Ruis said. “Her only issue was the gate. She broke slowly in her first race, but we worked on it and she broke good this time. She gets a little nervous in there, but I think the outside post this time really helped, too. We always thought she would turn out to be a really nice horse and she has so far. We didn't have any worries going up against those other horses. They had all the pressure. We were the longshot, but we knew what we had so we were really excited.”
Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union whose victories includes the G1 Champagne at 2 and the G1 Belmont Stakes at 3, stands at Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky. Union Strike is his fifth winner and first stakes winner from his first crop of foals to race.
Watch the race replay here:
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