Uncle Southern wins stakes debut in Union Avenue
By Phil Janack | 08/21/2014 04:51 PM ET
Trying stakes company for the first time, Uncle Southern bounded into the lead coming out of the gate and turned back a determined late bid from Sunny Desert to win the $100,000 Union Avenue for New York-bred fillies and mares on Thursday at Saratoga Race Course.
It was the third career win at Saratoga and second during the current 40-day meet for Uncle Southern, following a 5 ½-furlong sprint triumph on July 31, also run over a sloppy, sealed main track.
"She really dug in in the stretch," winning trainer Linda Rice said. "The last time we ran her and it came off the turf, she loved the mud. That might be her best surface."
Owned by J and M Racing Stables, Uncle Southern paid $16.80 for a $2 win bet as the 7-1 fourth choice in a field of five. Sunny Desert was second, followed by Make The Moment, Vicki's Dancer and even-money favorite Risky Rachel.
"It looked like we might have a little bit of a pace advantage in here," Rice said. "It didn't look like there was a lot of speed, only Risky Rachel, and it was questionable whether she would like the mud. I thought we'd just jump away from there and get to the lead. It looked like closers were winning earlier today which concerned me a bit, but I was hoping they'd leave us unattended on the pace and maybe that would work for us."
Breaking on the outside, Uncle Southern and jockey Luis Saez sprang from the gate when the doors opened and went right for the front, leading through an opening quarter-mile in 23.35 seconds and a half in 46.66 with Risky Rachel, the defending Union Avenue champion, in close pursuit.
Uncle Southern left an opening along the rail as the field turned into the stretch, and Sunny Desert charged through to mount her bid for the lead. Saez moved his whip to hit Uncle Southern left-handed, and the 4-year-old Uncle Camie filly surged again to hit the wire in 1:17.46 for six furlongs, three-quarters of a length in front.
"We didn't see a lot of speed [in the race], but we knew my filly had speed," Saez said. "Linda told me, 'You can go on the lead, and let's see what we've got.' I thought someone was coming to get me, but she responded when I switched my stick."
Out of the Dixie Brass mare Southern Statement, Uncle Southern is now 4-2-1 with purse earnings of $217,921 from 12 career starts. A maiden winner in a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint at Saratoga in August 2012, she has two wins and a third in five tries over an off track.
"I think the Dixie Brasses excel on the mud, and I think that's a big play for her," Rice said. "She seems to be coming into her best form now as a 4-year-old, and I think that's helping, as well."