Union Rags Scooped Belmont Stakes
The East Coast can relax now that Union Rags (Dixie Union USA) has proven what a good colt he is by winning the third leg of the Triple Crown and earning himself $600,000 for his share of the $1 million prize money.
He won the 144th Belmont Stakes, 1½m (1m4f, 12f, 2400m) on Dirt for 3yo, by a neck over the unlucky and relatively inexperienced Paynter USA (Awesome Again CAN) who led the race until collared on the line in a slow time of 2m30.42s.
It will not rate as one of the greatest Belmont Stakes,* but the final battle was thrilling and classy.
In this race, control of the rail determined the outcome. Paynter had it until John Velazquez on Union Rags stole it after riding it in third for most of the race a few lengths behind Paynter.
Atigun USA (Istan USA), who landed third, spooked Mike Smith on Paynter when challenging from the rear on Smith's right. Smith swerved far enough off the rail to allow the lurking Velazquez to slip through on his left.
Velazquez, who rode Union Rags for the first time after Julian Leparoux was jocked off, took a massive gamble in waiting for an opening and not going wide around Paynter.
You could just see Velazquez thinking and calculating.
Atigun provided the opportunity he needed to save the race for Union Rags whom he knew to be slow picking up and having a tendency to jink or hang under pressure.
Poor Paynter was forced to engage first right and then left costing him the race. Bob Baffert's second string responded admirably and gave Union Rags a good fight.
Slow to pick up or not, once the big long-striking colt saw daylight, he could not lose.
Velazquez could not control the timing of when the rail gap would appear (if at all). The delay merely minimized Union Rags' winning margin.
Union Rags seemed a natural on the sweeping curves of Belmont. He had won the Champagne Stakes there at two.
Though sent out as second favourite, Union Rags' victory thrilled the record crowd of 85,811 for a non-Triple Crown meet.
His trainer, Michael Matz, is extremely respected and racegoers felt he was owed a big one after losing the beloved and tragic Barbaro - winner of the 2006 Derby.
"I had a dream" said Union Rags' wheel-chair bound owner and breeder Phyllis M Wyeth of Chadds Ford Stud.
Oddly enough she had sold him as a yearling and must have had the dream when she bought him back at two.
His total earnings to date are $1,798,800 and he is by far the most successful of his sire Dixie Union's offspring.
The other most successful horses out of DU come from the Mr Prospector line (Grasshopper and Gone Astray).
Union Rags comes from the Mr Prospector line through his dam Tempo.
Tempo's lovely line back to Gone West, Mr Prospector and to Secretariat through UR' great-great grand dam Secrettame.
Breeding does tell in racing ability.
Yet somehow I suspect the less fashionable sire, Flower Alley, produced a colt in I'll Have Another who would had delivered a far better race if he had not been injured in training.
From what Matz said, he thought so too and would have enjoyed the showdown with the rival who beat his Union Rags into seventh in the Kentucky Derby.
After all, there is a Mr Prospector and Native Dancer in I'll Have Another's line.
Paynter, as a fast front-running horse, suffered the same fate in the Belmont Stakes as his stablemate Bodemeister who came second to I'll Have Another in the Derby and Preakness.
Atigun did well as an outsider to take third, but the
favourite Dullahan hated the track according to his jockey Janvier Castellano and only made seventh.
A fine race - just not what it might have been. Nor could it could deliver a Triple Crown.
*Below is the greatest of all Belmont Stakes. In 1973, Secretariat won the race in the still-standing record time of 2:24:00 by 25+ lengths.
©Posted June 10, 2012
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