June 17, 2019

Union strikes late in Gallant Bloom

Union Strike captures the Gallant Bloom Handicap (G3) at Belmont Park under jockey Jose Ortiz on September 23, 2018 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

Mick and Wendy Ruis’ Union Strike put herself into Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) consideration with a strong rally up the rail in Sunday’s $300,600 Gallant Bloom (G2) at Belmont Park. Making her second start since transferring from the Ruis barn to Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the 6-1 chance outfinished fellow closer Your Love and pacesetter Kirby’s Penny.

Union Strike, among the notable two-year-old fillies of 2016, is finally building on her early promise. Second to American Pharoah’s sister American Cleopatra on debut, she turned the tables, and broke her maiden, in the Del Mar Debutante (G1).

But Union Strike had not won a graded stakes since. She was unplaced when trying 1 1/16 miles in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and Starlet (G1), and benefited on the cutback to sprints early in her sophomore campaign. Her only other win came in the 2017 Santa Paula S., followed by an unlucky near-miss in the Eight Belles (G2) and an uncharacteristically poor fifth in the Acorn (G1).

Not seen again until the January 13 La Canada (G2), Union Strike did not factor in seventh and returned to the sidelines for another five months. Mick Ruis shortened her up to one turn again for the June 23 Chicago H. (G3) at Arlington, where she finished with interest for third.

Her owner/trainer decided to turn her over to Asmussen, along with Kentucky Derby (G1) also-ran Bolt d’Oro, and Union Strike’s success may be a harbinger for her high-profile stablemate. She was fourth in her debut for Asmussen in the August 25 Ballerina (G1), no match for Marley’s Freedom but not beaten far by Still There and Lewis Bay, and she reversed form with those placegetters here.

Off a beat slow, Union Strike was anchored at the rear early as Kirby’s Penny showed the way up front. Lewis Bay, the 9-5 favorite, pressed the leader through an opening quarter in :22.57 on the fast track, but began to lose position between horses at the half in :45.09, and retreated thereafter.

Kirby’s Penny also shrugged off the bid of defending champion Highway Star and tried to edge away in the stretch. Then the closers came calling, Your Love on the outside and Union Strike gaining steam on the rail.

Under new rider Jose Ortiz, Union Strike proved best of all by a half-length, reeling off 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.24 and rewarding her loyalists with $14.40.

Your Love was the same margin ahead of Kirby’s Penny, who was clear of Still There, Holiday Disguise, Highway Star, and the trailing Lewis Bay. According to the chart, Lewis Bay stumbled at the start, and Highway Star bobbled, so both may have reasons for their disappointing results.

Union Strike was not unscathed herself. Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that her right hind hoof had a “little bit of blood trickling,” and Ortiz explained that Union Strike had been struck into by a rival.

“The last time she ran (in the Ballerina),” Ruis said, “she grabbed a quarter and in a previous race she went to her nose before, so I didn’t mind a little bit of a slow start. But when I saw the half going in :45 I thought we had a shot, because we needed a little bit of something to run into. In the Ballerina, the field had a lot of speed and the pace was slow. She was the only one coming at the end real hard. Today, she gave a top effort.”

A half-sister to Grade 2 hero and millionaire Handsome Mike, Union Strike is out of the winning Smart Strike mare Classic Strike. The $375,000 OBS April juvenile sports a mark of 11-3-2-1, $537,625.