Just 24 hours after the air was let out of the Triple Crown balloon with the scratch of I’ll Have Another, jockey John Velazquez showed why he has won more racing at Belmont Park than any active rider with a daring rail run to win the $1 million Belmont Stakes (G1) aboard Union Rags.
Velazquez had one previous Belmont Stakes victory under his belt with the brilliant filly Rags to Riches in 2007.
Make that two “Rags” now.
Union Rags trainer Michal Matz, who is usually understated when it comes to his better horses thought he had a possible Triple Crown candidate going into the Kentucky Derby, despite the colt coming into the race off a third place finish in the Florida Derby (G1).
“We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential,” said Matz. “When we trained him, we gave him four races as a 2-year-old and gave him a rest and had a good plan. He never missed a beat. His first race [this year] couldn’t have been any easier. He had trouble in his second race and his third race. I do really think that this horse, when he has a clean trip and can show himself, is one of the best three-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.”
Matz decided to make a jockey change after Julien Leparoux found trouble early and often in a seventh place finish in the Run for the Roses.
As they came around the far turn at Belmont Park yesterday with Velazquez aboard, it started to look like déjà vu all over again.
Velazquez had Union Rags sitting in fourth, with the jockey having the colt on hold as he waited for some running room.
As they headed for home the best option appeared to be to go up the rail, but jockey Mike Smith and front running Paynter were not leaving much room to get through.
In midstretch Paynter came off the rail just enough for Velazquez to make his move, and he darted up the inside and got past Paynter in deep stretch to win by a neck, returning $7.50 for the win.
Paynter gave trainer Bob Baffert another runner up finish in this year’s Triple Crown after Bodemeister was the bridesmaid in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
The colt was able to set moderate fractions of 23.72, 49.23, 1:14.72, and 1:38.85 for the mile, and just like his stablemate Bodemeister in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, he looked headed for a gate to wire score, only to get run down late.
Smith blamed himself for not getting there.
“I’m going to take the blame,” Smith said after the race. “I’m an old veteran, no one’s supposed to get through on me, and he did.”
Paynter completed a $2 exacta that returned $31.40, with 20-1 longshot Atigun landing third, the $2 trifecta paying $496.00.
The biggest disappointment was from the slight favorite Dullahan, who never really was a threat in a seventh place finish.
NYRA Has Banner Day Despite Lack of Triple Crown Bid
The New York Racing Association has not had much go right this year, but they have to be happy with the crowd and betting handle for Belmont Stakes Day.
A crowd of 85,811 wagered $13,777,920 on Belmont Stakes Day card, the second largest Belmont Stakes Day on-track handle ever, trailing only the $14,461,402 wagered in 2004 when Birdstone broke the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones.
The on-track handle was also the third largest ever at Belmont Park, behind only the $14,742,521 wagered on Breeders’ Cup Day 2005 and the 2004 Belmont Stakes Day handle. It easily eclipsed the previous non-Triple Crown Day record of $10,581,093 set in 2001 by 30.2% and was up 36.4% over $10,098,573 in 2011.
The attendance of 85,811, the sixth largest ever at Belmont Park, smashed the previous non-Triple Crown Day record of 73,857 set in 2001 by 16.2% and was up 53.8% from 55,779 on Belmont Stakes Day last year.
All-sources handle, which includes all wagering on NYRA Belmont Stakes Day races nationwide, was $96,485,985, the third highest ever for Belmont Stakes Day. It broke the previous non-Triple Crown Day record of $89,705,885 set in 2009 by 7.6% and was up 18.8& over last year’s total of $81,245,326.
Union Rags Wins 2012 Belmont Stakes
Payoffs for the Belmont Stakes
Union Rags $7.50 $4.20 $3.40
Paynter $5.10 $3.90
$2 Exacta (3-9) Paid: $31.40
$2 Trifecta (3-9-4) Paid: $496.00
$2 Superfecta (3-9-4-1) Paid: $1,906.00
Michael Dempsey provides his selections for Belmont Park and Churchill Downs each racing day. Mike’s Best Plays Report is available each weekend, with his strongest plays and selections including the top stakes races.