Redemption for Union Rags in Belmont Stakes

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Union Rags holds off Paynter to win the 2012 Belmont Stakes Union Rags holds off Paynter to win the 2012 Belmont Stakes

It was the story of the racing winter as the Kentucky Derby came into view: Phyllis Wyeth, a veteran horsewoman who had seller’s remorse and the previous year had bought back Union Rags, the horse she’d bred and sold as a yearling. The son of Dixie Union had a near-championship year at 2, losing the title to Hansen in a close Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but the bandwagon was not nearly as crowded on the first Saturday in May as it had been before the horse lost the Florida Derby.

And then came the Kentucky Derby itself, where Union Rags was never a factor after a terrible start and bad racing luck. I’ll Have Another won the roses and went on to Baltimore where he ran a copycat race, beating the front-running Bodemeister in the Preakness, just as he did two weeks earlier at Churchill Downs, and setting the stage for a run to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

That bid was cancelled at the 11th hour when tendonitis was diagnosed on the day before the 144th Belmont Stakes, and I’ll Have Another was scratched, his racing career over.

Twenty-four hours later, the storyline had shifted back to the original one. At the end of the long, strange trip from Louisville, Ky.,  to Elmont, N.Y., there was Union Rags, in all his glory, winning the June 9 Belmont Stakes by a gutsy neck under John Velazquez, diving through a sliver of daylight along the rail in the final desperate yards of the mile and a half Belmont, snatching victory away from Paynter. The front-running colt was trainer Bob Baffert and owner Zayat Stable’s stand-in for Bodemeister in this Test of the Champion. The result, however, was the same as it had been at Churchill Downs and Pimlico: their horse was passed in the cruel closing strides of an American classic. 

Union Rags ran the 12 furlongs on a fast track in 2:30.42.

It was a marvelous ride by John Velazquez, who will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in two months and was winning his second Belmont Stakes, the first coming aboard the filly Rags to Riches in 2007. It was a terrific training job by Michael Matz, who in 2006 won the Kentucky Derby with Barbaro and opted to skip the Preakness after the disappointing seventh by Union Rags in the Kentucky Derby. It was the horse of a lifetime for Wyeth.

“I had a dream and I knew he would make it,” Wyeth said. “I knew he could do it. And nobody would have gotten through on the rail other than Johnny today. That was unbelievable. He just said, ‘Move over, I’m coming.’”

Velazquez was riding Union Rags for the first time, replacing Julien Leparoux, who lost his previous two starts aboard the colt. Leparoux wound up finishing third aboard longshot Atigun in the Belmont.  Completing the order of finish was Street Life, Five Sixteen, Unstoppable U, Dullahan (the 5-2 favorite), My Adonis, Ravelo’s Boy, Optimizer, and Guyana Star Dweej, who was eased.

“I thought he rode a brilliant race,” Matz said of Velazquez. “Whether he got up there or he didn’t, I thought he ran a great race.

“I’m just glad for Phyllis and the horse,” Matz said. “We finally got to see the real Union Rags. … We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential.”

Paynter set all the fractions in the Belmont – :23.72 for the opening quarter mile, :49.23 for the half mile, 1:14.72 for six furlongs, 1:38.85 for a mile, and 2:04.39 for a mile and a quarter. Longshot Unstoppable U was the early chaser, with Optimizer closer than expected in third and My Adonis fourth. Union Rags was in a good spot going into the first turn, then saved ground thereafter along the rail while in fourth or fifth.

Coming out of the far turn, Paynter still was galloping along on the lead, but suddenly Atigun made a wide bid while Velazquez sat patiently toward the inside awaiting room. When daylight opened in the final furlong, he drove through and went on to the narrow victory. Dullahan, the slight 5-2 favorite ahead of Union Rags, got shuffled back and was never a factor.

This was the Union Rags that easily won the first three starts of his career, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special at Saratoga and the G1 Champagne at Belmont Park. He lost the Eclipse Award when coming up a head short of Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup, then was given some time off to point for the Triple Crown.

Union Rags came back with an overpowering victory in the G2 Fountain of Youth in late February, but disappointed in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, where he was the second wagering choice to Bodemeister. Following the Derby, Matz sent Union Rags back to his stable at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, where the colt had a couple of sharp breezes – one of them under Velazquez  – then shipped to New York in time to meet the requirements of the newly imposed detention barn on Wednesday.

Matz said it was too early to say where Union Rags might run next.

Union Rags was produced from Tempo, a mare by Gone West. It was to be Tempo’s last foal, as she’d had complications in previous foalings. Gone West and Devil’s Bag, among many others, raced for Wyeth’s late parents, James and Alice du Pont Mills, who introduced her to racing. Wyeth rode steeplechase horses during her youth, but her riding days ended after an automobile accident that eventually led to her being confined to a wheelchair.

Union Rags was sold by Paramount Sales, agent for Wyeth, for $145,000 at the 2010 Saratoga yearling sale. Buyer IEAH stable consigned the colt with Eddie Woods at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training. Wyeth asked her friend, bloodstock agent Russell Jones, to try and buy the colt back if the price was right.

“I called her up and said there’s some buzz about the horse,” Jones recalled. “She asked me how much it would take to get him and I said from what I was hearing it would be in the mid-to-upper $300,000 range. She said to bid up to $390,000, and that’s exactly what we got him for.”

Matz said Jones handed him the ticket and said, “Phyllis would like you train him for her.”

The Belmont crowd of 85,811 was the sixth largest ever and the biggest when no Triple Crown was on the line. Of course, just over 24 hours earlier, I’ll Have Another was in the starting field with a chance to end the 34-year Triple Crown drought dating back to 1978 when Affirmed beat Alydar in their famous duels.

Instead of competing in the Belmont, Paul and Zillah Reddam’s Flower Alley colt was greeted respectfully by the Belmont fans in a retirement ceremony in the winner’s circle that included trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. A short time later, the torch was passed to Union Rags.

Belmont chart.

Post-race quotes from connections of Belmont runners, courtesy NYRA media office

Phyllis Wyeth, winning owner of Union Rags (No. 3): “I knew. I had a dream. I knew he would make it. I only have that racehorse and half of another, a claimer. And I knew Michael could do it with him. It was my dream and he made it come true today. He and Johnny. I knew he could do it. And nobody would have gotten through on the rail other than Johnny today, I can tell you that. That was unbelievable. He just said ‘Move over, I’m coming.’ He believed in the horse. And Michael got him there.”

Michael Matz, winning trainer of Union Rags (No. 3): “I’m just glad for Phyllis and the horse, we just got to see the real Union Rags.”

 

John Velazquez, winning jockey aboard Union Rags (No. 3): “He just worked so unbelievable, I was just hoping he could put that work into this race and he did. I was very proud of him. Just to be home [in New York] this was my opportunity here. It was incredible; there aren’t words to describe it. It’s incredible [to win this race for trainer Michael Matz]. They liked this horse for so long, and for him to finally rise up to the top again, I’m very, very happy for him.”

Bob Baffert, trainer of runner-up Paynter (No. 9): “Is there a Triple Crown for seconds? I need a Triple Crown for seconds. I really thought he was going to win today. He was doing so well. I just feel bad for [owner] Mr. [Ahmed] Zayat. The poor guy, he’s been tortured on this Triple Crown. Turning for home, I knew we had the horse to do it and that horse snuck up on him there. He’s still a young horse, still learning how to run. It’s over. When you get beat, you get beat.”

“[Jockey Mike Smith] will probably take a lot of heat for [letting Union Rags up the rail]. It’s a jockey thing. He didn’t want to give up the rail. But you know what, he did a tremendous job. The outside horse had that horse trapped. Johnny [Velazquez], you have to give him credit. He was patient and he just waited. He knew sometimes that happens in these big races.”

“There were no excuses. The first quarter was a little quick, but he had to use him a little bit to get him over because we wanted to get him on the lead and shut down the [No. 2] horse [Unstoppable U] immediately, because I figured he was in there as a rabbit for the other horse [Atigun]. Once he did that, he slowed them down and was in a perfect spot. He did all I could ask for. I had him ready. The crew did a great job, Jimmy Barnes and everybody. We had him ready, and we really thought today we were going to get it done. Unfortunately, we came up short, but we got beat by a nice horse.”

“He’s a really good horse. I really like this horse a lot. I wanted to win one of these races so badly, I’m telling you. My crew deserves it more than anything; they work so hard. And Mr. Zayat, he needed to win one of these. Poor guy. He really deserved it. It’s a shame. It looked like we had it. It looked like it was ours. I really felt like I was going to win the Belmont. It was snatched away again.”

“We were always really high on this horse. It just took him a little bit longer to come around. The horse is really green. He ran a hell of a race.”

“We’ll probably look at the Travers, something at Saratoga, something like that.”

 

Mike Smith, rider of runner-up Paynter (No. 9): “He ran tremendous. I’m such a perfectionist. [Union Rags] just shouldn’t have gotten through on me. I’d like to see what the outcome would have been if he wouldn’t have. I haven’t had the chance [to talk to Bob Baffert]. I’m sure he doesn’t want to speak to me right now.”

Ahmed Zayat, owner of runner-up Paynter (No. 9): “Heartbreaking defeat. A heartbreaking defeat. He ran his guts out. It’s just his fourth race. What do they call that race, the ‘Test of the Champion?’ To go a mile and a half the way he did, in only his fourth race, I am very lucky to have him. I’m very disappointed we opened the rail for [Union Rags].”

“Not only that, today Justin Phillip [second in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens] was winning for fun in crazy numbers and got beat. Sometimes when you run a lot of seconds, they say you tripped, or you got lucky. But my horses are showing up and running big. Somehow we are not able to close the deal.”

 

Ken McPeek, trainer third-place finisher Atigun (No. 4), sixth-place finisher Unstoppable U (No. 2): “Both horses were in contention turning for home, but the gray horse [Unstoppable U] needed the race. He didn’t have enough bottom under him. Atigun, he ran super. I was real pleased. He’s just maturing; he’s figured it out. He knows when to kick. Mr. Anthony [John Ed Anthony, Shortleaf Stable Inc.] is real happy. He’s a good man, and he’s good for the business.”

Julien Leparoux, jockey aboard third-place finisher Atigun (No. 4): “It was a very good race. There was a clean race for everybody, so that’s very important. For us, as the jockeys, for the people watching the race, it’s great to see a clean race. I hope everybody had fun today. We had a good trip. We stayed inside most of the trip. I could get him out around the turn, I thought I had a good chance to win, he made a nice move. He ran a big race, so that was good.”

Chad Brown, trainer of fourth-place finisher Street Life (No. 1): “He was in the right spot and that is where the horse wanted to be. He made a run, and he was good enough to get up to be fourth, but that was probably was as good as it was going to be today. He’s a horse that needs some pace to run at and I thought that with the blinkers on he would lay a little closer. I think he is more focused with them on, but he is a horse that comes from behind that needs some pace. In a mile and a half race we really didn’t get the pace that we needed to make the big run. We’ll probably keep him at a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter.”

 

Dale Romans, trainer of beaten favorite and seventh-place finisher Dullahan (No. 5): “He said he felt comfortable all around the backside. He felt he was relaxing in the right spot. Turning for home he just got to spinning his wheels. He said the track was pretty deep and cuppy. I don’t know. The race unfolded like it looked on paper to me. Paynter ran a big race, they all ran big, Union Rags ran big; we just didn’t have a finishing kick. This is a good horse, a very good horse. I was sure he was going to run a really big one. It’s disappointing.”

Was it the track?: “I’m not going to make excuses for him. I said all along I thought he could handle the dirt. I think it puts Union Rags in the picture for an Eclipse Award, I would think. There’s a lot of year left, and with I’ll Have Another out, it’s definitely in his own hands.”

Javier Castellano, rider of beaten favorite and seventh-place finisher Dullahan (No. 5): “I don’t think he really liked the track today. He’s the type of horse who likes the turf or Polytrack more. The track was a little deep today and he kind of struggled a little bit. He was in a great position and not too far back. I was right in mid pack which is right where I wanted to be. I was in a full drive and he never got a hold of the track. He never gave me the power and kick like he did at Churchill Downs [in the Kentucky Derby]. He was spinning his wheels.”

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  • Shaboo Ritter

    AS i call it Union Rags 

  • Barry Irwin

    Johnny V…took a gamble staying inside and it paid off. Top ride. Game horse. Even gamer owner, to have sold him and bought him back!

  • Barry Irwin

    Go Fair Hill!

  • Tiznowbaby

    2:30?? How was the track playing?

  • John Ferguson

    For Mike Smith to drift off the rail was an amateur move by a professional.  He cost his mount the race–and for Gary Stevens to alibi for Smith was a disgrace–to even suggest that Atigun was going by Paynter if Smith did not hit left handed was ridiculous

  • JC

    WOW–Union Rags found his voice and proved that he could run in very competitive traffic.  I am SOOO happy for the Wyeth family and Mr. Matz. 

    4.0 ride by Johnny V–he has paint on his pants… :-) 

    I know it’s his nature but I truly hope Mike Smith is not too hard on himself.  I don’t know that he could have won this one unless he had eyes in back of his head.  Looking back would have taken his focus off what he was doing.  Staying closer to the rail may have resulted in Atigun winning it.  Union Rags and rider threaded the needle, a really hard thing to do. 

    Kudos to all; a great race to watch…  :-)  

  • Ida Lee

    If we could not have a shot at the Triple Crown, then having my beloved Union Rags put on such an incredible show and John riding him perfectly, well to say my day turned out pretty good is to put it mildly.  Now, on behalf of Union Rags, I would like to say to the TVG handicappers who did not pick UR to win because, among other comments: UR is overrated, he’s not a distance horse etc, etc, etc. well, at this time, why don’t you all just kiss my grits!!!

  • Convene

    Now THERE’S the Union Rags we know! Lovely ride by Johnny V, lovely training job by one of racing’s true Mr. Nice Guys, Michael Matz, great run by Rags! May the rest of the season go as well for all of them. Great reward for Mrs. Wyeth’s decision to buy the horse back. And they say love don’t count …

  • tomfool

    All three triple crown races this year were good,  exciting races.  That doesn’t happen often.  But the Belmont was the cherry on top.  Union Rags’s gutty,  courageous move up the rail will be replayed for many,  many years in all our memories.  A true classic. 

  • Lisa Wintermote

    Congratulations Team Union Rags!!! I am SO happy for all involved. Classy classy connections and very deserving of everything good that comes their way! Ballsy ride by Johnny V! Gutsy run by UR! My only regret is that I ponied him for the Derby instead of the Belmont! Lol!

  • Lisa Wintermote

    Well said Miss Ida! :-)

  • LongTimeEconomist

    Ida, I learned a long time ago to totally ignore handicapping advice from Schrupp or Amoss. Welcome to the club. 

  • Mjames1950

    what place did Five sixteen come In?

  • roger

    I wonder how gracious Baffert would’ve been if Martin Garcia was aboard Paynter…..speaking of Martin Garcia……Bodemeister had clear lead into the stretch in KY Derby and Preakness and Paynter today….does Martin Garcia’s skill
    get at least one win for team Baffert/Zayat in the Triple Crown? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Arden/1054071262 Nick Arden

    Fast. Time was almost 2 seconds slower than yesterday’s Brooklyn Hcp.  They walked this one.

  • Lisa Wintermote

    5th

  • Cynster

    I wonder if the fact that Unstoppable U forced Paynter to go the 4th quarter (from the six furlong mark to the mile) in 24 seconds is what ultimately cost Paynter the race. If Paynter hadn’t had to make that early move, he would surely have held on. Paynter went the last 3 furlongs in 24, 25 and 26 seconds. He still only lost by a short neck. If he could have gone the 4th quarter in 25, without that early move by Unstoppable U, I think he would have won by at least a length.
    Also, Willie Martinez, the rider of Giant Ryan, was still whipping his horse when he was moving very roughly at least 1/16 of a mile before he broke down,, if he had started to pull up his horse at that point, he could have saved him from the traumatic injury. If anyone doubts this, just look at the head on tape of the race. Martinez should be penalized for not pulling the horse up much earlier.  

  • Ssk12955

    Agree Smith blew the race. Torturous triple crown for Baffart, Smith And Zyadd. And trow in the Woody Stephens.

  • frankie

    To be fair Christina and Todd of all people did choose Union Rags. 

  • Downer

    You can see Giant Ryan is choppy BUT i’ve seen plenty of horses run choppy like that and finish the race fine. He was not hurt until he took ONE bad step and when he did Martinez took a hold and did the best he could to pull Giant Ryan up. It’s almost better the horse fell because if the horse didn’t and still tried to keep going he could have hurt himself EVEN WORSE. Can’t penalize Martinez in my opinion. 

  • Downer

    What a great race and what a win for Union Rags and his connections!  Michael Matz and Johnny V. are the classiest people and Mrs. Wyeth seems like a wonderful lady and a loyal owner. He’s a really good horse. I told people I wasn’t giving up on him after the Derby. 
    It just shows us how strong the 3 year old crop was this year. What a great year of Triple Crown races and horses! 

  • Cynster

    Sorry to disagree, but watch how Giant Ryan was moving earlier in the race…very smoothly…. he started to move very choppily around the turn and was obviously struggling…it was not until he changed his lead that his leg gave way. Perhaps he could have been saved the traumatic injury if he had been pulled up when he started moving badly.

  • CS

    I’m not looking to cause a ruckus here – and I was really happy for the connections of Union Rags – but he ran one of the four slowest Belmonts since 1973 on a fast track.  2:30.4 is abysmal time.  It’s Commendable time, Drosselmyer time.  To be hyped so much and look so wonderful, he should have at least run 2:29……it makes me look at this whole crop of 3 yr olds and wonder if they are even remotely at the level of even recent top horses like Afleet Alex or Point Given.  I can’t help but think that IHA would have mopped the track with all of them today.  Glad no one was hurt, glad the race ran clean…..but geez – what a slow, uninspiring time given the conditions.

  • Davidbaker57

    Glad Union Rags got a good trip and won.  Kudos to him.  But Mike Smith again stunk.  He leaves the Grand Canyon open to his inside that allows Union Rags thru (maybe he woulda won anyway…who knows), which followed up a ride on Bodemeister 5 weeks ago that was great if the Derby was, say, a mile and a sixteenth or so.  Not so good at a mile and a quarter.

    Been saying it for a couple years….Zenyatta must have been the best horse (mare) to ever look thru a bridle.  She won 19 races…many of them DESPITE Mike Smith.

  • Don Reed

    Or sixteenth. Not sure.

  • Downer

    That happens in plenty of races. Since breakdowns don’t happen every single day you wouldn’t think they did. Horses move choppily when they get tired. This isn’t the only horse to ever have done that. In fact, I’ve seen horses that do that and end up battling hard and end up finishing in the money if not a winner. If jockeys pulled up horses every time they got choppy and tired then you’d see a horse being pulled up every race. And sometimes when they switch leads they do better because it takes more stress off one side And to blame the jockey I don’t agree with that. He wasn’t the reason the horse broke down.

  • Downer

    I do agree that he was moving choppy and was tired. I can definitely see that.

  • Don Reed

    Great race, glad U. Rags won even though I had gotten off the UR Bandwagon (for win tickets). 

    Now, next year, FOR A CHANGE, let’s interview some fans.  You say it can’t be done?  Local NBC station got off their butts and interviewed FANS, then ran them on the air.  All original comments, not burnt out, great features (I think this makes Mr. & Ms. Wyeth fans, not owners). 

    This is what John Scheinmann specializes in.  Where be he today?

    Mr. Z can’t get the sound of “Second Hand Rose” out of his head.  Is it the Streisand or Fanny Brice version?  Or the mainland Chinese rock band? Do tell, sir.

  • Don Reed

    LTE, sour grapes.  The vivacious French actress on TVG thought he was very “funny.” 

    Although Schrupp DID appear to understand that our definition of “funny” (amusing, witty) might not be what she was possibly referring to (eccentric buffoon?).  Dicey. Thin ice-y. I thought she meant the first, but ya never know.

  • Don Reed

    Say it brother!

  • Don Reed

    Yes, it really was a vast ungrade in the quality of the connections, wasn’t it.

    Must compliment O’Neill, though, for not losing it the way “Diapers” Dutrow did in 2008.

  • Whitehouse landlord

     Second guessing has what value?

  • Nucky Thompson

    Poor Mr Zayat he has no luck in the numbers game. First it was Fifth Third and now its Third Second.

  • Go Kings!!!!!!!

    Martin ain’t s*it Baffert has being making jockeys look good for years Martin wouldn’t have made a different he’s not or will never will be a hall of fame jockey as Mikey is!!!!!!!!

  • Don Reed

    Excellent wit, Mr. T.  Very enjoyable!

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    Johnny V is the real RAG MAN!!!…

  • free reign

    He had little contribution to the final “time” because it was a race that was determined by pace dictated by horses blocking Union Rags, until he snuck up the inside. If he sent him he would have had to circle or check. The second would have been hard to make up in those last jumps, once he was clear.

  • Triplecrownquest

    The ONLY person to feel sorry for Zayat is Zayat.  This guy won over a million in purse money in 5 weeks…maybe more with all his other horses that ran on the classic days…Mr Zayat…to complain about “not” getting it done…LOL now THAT is hilarious!

  • in tears

    Great race for Union rags for a really nice horse with heart. Infact great race for all horses entered. They came home safe.
    As for CS. since your comment is Union Rags ran the slowest race in four years. So did all the other horses cause Union Rags won

  • Elktonstable

    CS, I think you are being a little too demanding at this point. Everyone is re-grouping their livestock in the wake of not being able to aid their horses with anabolic steroids. It will take time to defiine these “unassisted athletes” and breed champions accordingly. Union Rags and I’ll Have Another are now taking their place in the new generations of racehorses that are “au naturale”.  As the grip of medication use slowly releases, new bloodline variations will dominate. Each year of competition will help breeders identify which route to follow.

    Now if we can pressure racing secretaries to stop neglecting intermediate and distance horses in the races they offer for selection, maybe more of us will be able to stay afloat and re-define the American thoroughbred. This will help shave off finishing times for the Belmont in years to come. A long process at work.

  • Rachel

    Paynter…what a horse!!!

    I’m happy for Mrs. Wyeth.

  • JB56

    Been a Union Rags fan since Saratoga…..but 2:30.4…..Can’t help thinking that IHA would have won by 10 or 15 lengths and we’d be talking about a legendary racehorse this morning.  Too bad for racing that didn’t happen.  

  • Bocephus

    That cheap mutt Drosselmeyer…all he did was go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic… They went slow early, so the final time was bound to be slow. If Paynter had gone 1:11, you wouldn’t have been able to find him with a telescope at the finish…

  • wabstat

    A few thoughts…
    Congrats to UR and his connections, today is your day.
    Stay away for Bode…
    Dale Romans got what he deserved

    Fare well IHA, it took a tendon to prevent the TC this time.

  • Illhaveanotherandanother

    Don’t know if any other jock would have been able to do what Johnny V did in winning the race. Congrats to the trainer and owner for a good job and decision.

  • Gaited

    They went slow early in the Manhattan yesterday too but the final time was under 2:00 minutes for 10f.

    Drosselmeyer’s BC Classic was the second slowest in the history of the race. 

  • wabstat

    They went slow early and even slower late.  Any way you measure it, that race was slow.   

  • wabstat

    While I agree with some of what you are saying, Union Rags does not belong in the same sentence with I’ll Have Another. 

  • CS

    Yes he did go on to win the Classic, in one of its slowest runnings as well, and after not winning a race for how long in between.   I’m honestly not trying to burst the Union Rags balloon – but time doesn’t lie.  It was slow…and I agree that had IHA been able to run – he’d have cleaned up – he was just a faster horse. 

  • CS

    No….you can set slow fractions and then close furiously at the end and the  final time is not dogcart slow.  And I’ll be interested to see the final 16th time for Union Rags, because he wasn’t pulling a Caixa Electronica out there, he was benefiting from a gutsy ride by JohnnyV and a mistake by Smith.  Look at where he finally was at the wire – do you honestly think that he was motoring so fast that had he been forced to go outside of Paynter he’d have gotten up?  And I like Union Rags – but his beauty physically and the “chatter” about his potential greatness has never been borne out by his running as yet.  I think he’s destined to be a really solid middle distance horse with some good races ahead but not greatness. 

  • CS

    Elktonstable – very smart and informed point.  I agree wholeheartedly.

  • CS

    And you just made my point for me, in Tears.  This was not racing at it’s greatest level.  YOu are so right – Union Rags is a ‘really nice” horse – but he’s not great.  Perhaps he can develop and become great with time – and whatever the time – he is a Belmont winner.  But just not a great or even very good one.  I think the leftoever ardor for Barbaro via the Matz connections makes people want more from this loveoly colt thatn he might actually be able to give.

  • Perks

    Im watching the close up slow mo video – how many times did johnny hit union rags on the head in the stretch??? wth?

  • Lobieb

    I saw the race and he was waving the stick in front of Rags not hitting him on his head.  Take another look.

  • Don Reed

    The man who overreached like a fool and put HIMSELF into bankrupcy now feels he is qualified to judge the achievements of others.  Honestly, I have no idea why Baffert retains him as a client.  It must be the secret sauce.

  • Howardfschwartz

    Mike Smith is got to be the worse rider in America. To hit the horse left handed and give up the rail is a rookie mistake in a Grade 1 race. Shame/.

  • Don Reed

    The word “redemption” is falsely used, both in the headline and as a theme of the writing.

    Had Union Rags beaten IHA, then using the word would be justified (even though using it at all is ridculous, since it has been beaten to death by sports media idiots and is a surefire sign that the writer is coasting – settling for a sterile, mechanical approach to his craft).

    UR beat a very game Paynter, whose performance wildly exceeded my expectations, and Atigun did a nice job of it.  The remainder of the field was cannon fodder, and as far as the times recorded during the race, it’s impossible to think of this as a memorable Triple Crown event.  So what good is “redemption” in such a context of racing mediocrity?

    Aside from all that, a ton of people showed up, had a great time, the TV ratings were decent, and once the Reddam-O’Neill smog dissipated, a was truly a decent, enjoyable afternoon at Belmont Park.  I’ll settle for that any day.

    Say, NBC, next time, would you please not give Woody Allen and his adopted daughter (attending the event, in the 4th floor dining room) camera time?  85,000+ people were in the building and on the grounds, and this was the best you can do?

  • Convene

     I won’t take issue with your point. However, I admit I enjoyed seeing the horse win or lose by his own merits rather than by whether or not he was blocked. A tough break for Zayat perhaps, but it really is nice to see the horses run unimpeded to show what they’ve got on that day. I even feel the some disappointment when any of my favorite horses wins more or less by default, so I’m not discriminating because I happen to like Rags.

  • Bristling

    The last GREAT horses you seen run was Easy Goer and Sunday Silence !!

  • Bristling

    NO !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • May Flower

    It would take at least 3 drug-free weeks –not 3 days– under tight supervision for horses to run “au naturale”.

  • May Flower

    Yes, JV hit UR on the head and his right ear about three times.

  • Whitehouse landlord

     So true!  UR’s gut wrenching win will resound for years to come.  He’s baaaaaack.

  • Jan

     I believe UR ran a 25 and 2/5ths last quarter ( his time from the quarter pole ) which I think is pretty darn good at the end of 1 1/2 miles. He also galloped out great according to his jockey. And remember, he had to wait a bit for the hole to open before surging. A stalker or closer is almost always at the mercy of the pacesetters fractions, which in this case were crawling. To get a good time or BSF off of that pace would be VERY difficult, if not impossible. I think UR’s final quarter and gutsy surge up the rail tell one all they need to know about this colt. And, there isn’t much doubt in my mind that UR still very much prefers the outside when making his run for the finish line. He didn’t get that yesterday. Give this horse an outside post and quicker fractions to run behind, and I think we’ll see better times and BSF’s.

  • Lisa Wintermote

    I think the contact with UR ear was inadvertent and caused by the tight quarters and the risk of striking Paynter. It must have been very minimal because at no time did UR flinch away from the stick. I know Johhny well and I’m certain he would never knowingly strike a horse in the head.

  • Perks

    Thanks Lisa, I know I saw it happening. Glad the horse got to the wire.

  • Whatzthatsound

     Seen jocks with paint on their boots, but not in the Belmont.

  • Iknewthat

     Baffert horses are trained as sprinters.  if they exceed their training is based on the horses ability and genetics.  Lots of races are won on the rail and it is hard to stop a 40mph animal by cutting in front in the stretch!

    You are right about Smith as a jockey, but he didn’t lose the race.  JV won it by overtaking a horse with one with more gas left in the tank. Great strategy by Paynter to slow the pace, but he was still not the horse with the most left at the end.

  • BenKMcFadden

    Speed, speed, speed.  The speed of the race has nothing to do with the quality of the race or the competition.  Everyone focused on the time does not understand pace and racing strategy.  (The Belmont isn’t a sprint.)  Paynter intentionally slowed the pace to force another horse to challenge and burn up, or have the field remain behind while saving himself.  The strategy worked almost perfectly.  The glitch resulted when another horse, Union Rags, was close by with even more left.  He was able to overtake Paynter with a bigger kick, Paynter did not back up. Speed has nothing to do with the outcome of this race.  The time of the race it completely insignificant.  The fastest horse does not always win; especially in route races.

    Many races are won on the rail.  Mike Smith kept his horse on the shortest line to the finish and got beat by a faster closer, without causing a wreck.  He is not the best jockey around, but he did not lose this race.  He lost the Classic, but not this one.

  • FriendofRays

    Is there a factual or objective basis for your comment?   If a knowledgeable horsemen had to choose trainers, horses, pedigrees, future value at stud, etc in April they would have picked Union Rags hands down over I’ll Have Another. Union Rags will have the opportunity to prove and possibly increase his value as a racehorse and stallion prospect.  I’ll Have Another will not. No amount of hype, wishful thinking, or admiration will not make him more than he is.  A four race wonder does not make a legend or a Chef de Race.  He was the best 3yo for a few months. Union Rags may or may not be the better horse, but he is still in the game.

    Excellence overcomes Brilliance.

  • Don Reed

    To whom is this comment addressed?  Is this a reply that ended up as another Disqus orphan, appearing to be an original comment?

  • Don Reed

    “(The Belmont isn’t a sprint.)”

    Oh.  This is embarrassing.  Here I was, all these years, waiting for a final time of 1:08.25 for the Belmont Stakes.

    Benny, couldn’t you have pointed this out sooner?  

  • Jimculpepper

    Yes! My nose runs for him. Still, are his aides-de-camp really that good in select colts or does he bankrupt himself buying every decent colt in sight. I’m waiting for him to bid on Stonewall Farms.

  • Jimculpepper

    I liked IHA and thought Dullahan would be second, while thinking Rags lacked the guts for Belmont; even so, I dislike it when people put down TC contenders, just as I dislike it when any years crop is put down. If anyone had better colts, they should have run them.  Elkton Stable makes a good point, albeit, premature with respect to the transition away from chemical colts.  Between drugs and the stampede for stud fees, It is apparent that the average rooster fighter has forgotten more than Kentucky knows about selective breeding.

  • Hrprfan

    I agree, one is sound the other is not.

  • McGov

    For JV to win this race under those circumstances was incredible.  I’m sure Smith is kicking himself a bit for allowing the rail option but the horse didn’t shy away from the hole and deserves all the credit.  I think Union Rags would have won by a couple if JV starting thinking outside a bit earlier.

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