"I guess when he moved on from the Jacksons and Barbaro, all of a sudden Union Rags won his first start," Jamie Wyeth said. "It's kind of interesting how that seems to be in the air. He just moves right on to another thing. He's such a wonderful person."
Jamie Wyeth described Matz as "a perfect fit for us."
Matz is on a mission to win a second Derby with his best horse since Barbaro, having returned to Churchill Downs in 2008 with low-profile Visionaire, who finished 12th.
Union Rags is the early 9-2 second choice for Saturday's race.
"Barbaro was undefeated. This horse is a length and a half from being undefeated," Matz said, referring to Union Rags' third-place finish in the Florida Derby in March.
He plays down his influence on the colt. "Anybody could train him," he said. "He does what he's supposed to do. He's got manners, ability, and I think they call that class."
Matz wants to win this one for Phyllis Wyeth, who injured her neck in a 1962 car accident and became wheelchair-bound in 2001 as a result of its degenerative effects. Wyeth grew up in a racing family but didn't experience the thrill of a major stakes victory until last year when Union Rags won the Champagne at Saratoga.
"She's a real trouper, and I think she'd enjoy it like anybody else would," Matz said. "She told me the other day she got on the plane to come down here and she cried."
Wyeth bred Union Rags in 2009 near Philadelphia at Chadds Ford Stable, a short drive from the Jacksons' farm. After failing to find anyone to buy a half-share of the horse, she decided to sell Union Rags for $145,000 to Mike Ivarone of IEAH Stables, owner of 2008 Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown. Wyeth later got a bad case of seller's remorse.
When IEAH put Union Rags up for sale in February 2011, Wyeth told her bloodstock agent to buy him back. She had the winning bid of $390,000, regaining the colt for $245,000 more than she had sold him for.
"It almost sounds like a bad movie," Jamie Wyeth said. "Phyllis is a different sort of owner in that she's a small owner, doesn't have a lot of horses, but each horse means very much to her, in particular this one."
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