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Union Rags Wins the 2012 Belmont Stakes

June 10,2012

Written by
Jennie Rees
The Courier-Journal

ELMONT, N.Y. — At the top of the stretch in Saturday’s 144th Belmont Stakes, Union Rags yet again looked headed for trouble.
Phyllis Wyeth’s 3-year-old colt was blocked behind horses with seemingly nowhere to go. But with John Velazquez riding him for the first time, Union Rags determinedly budged through a narrow opening on front-running Paynter’s left flank with eight strides to go and snatched a dramatic neck victory in the Triple Crown finale.

“I waited for a hole to open up, and I got lucky,” Velazquez said. “The horse did it all. ... If it happens, it’s brilliant. If it doesn’t happen, you’re a bum, basically.”

An enthusiastic crowd of 85,811 showed up at Belmont Park, even after Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another was retired suddenly Friday with a tendon injury. It wasn’t the drama they originally hoped to see, but it was an awfully good substitute.

Erased was the disappointment of a head defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, when Union Rags and Javier Castellano were wide much of the race and couldn’t catch champion Hansen. And the third place by a total of 1¼ lengths in the Florida Derby, when he and Julien Leparoux were stuck behind horses and got clear too late. And, of course, the Kentucky Derby, when he broke awkwardly, was buried behind horses and did well to get seventh.

“We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential,” trainer Michael Matz. “… I do really think that this horse, when he has a clean trip and can show himself, is one of the best 3-year-olds in this crop. Whether he could have done something against I’ll Have Another, I don’t know. But it sure would have been fun to see.”

For owner-breeder Wyeth, it was validation. She sold the colt for $145,000 as a yearling but bought him back for $390,000 the next year because she just had a feeling she was supposed to.

“I had a dream,” said Wyeth, who owns only two racehorses. “I knew he would make it. ... I knew Michael could do it with him. It was my dream, and he made it come true. Nobody would have gotten through on the rail other than Johnny, I can tell you that. That was unbelievable. He just said, ‘Move over; I’m coming.’ ”

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