Click above to watch Union Rags winning the Belmont Stakes (G1)…
(Image : Washington Post - Footage : CNBC)
BELMONT STAKES (Grade 1)
Belmont Park, Dirt, 2400m
9 June 2012
It’s been something of a tumultuous sophomore season thus far for Chadds Ford Stable’sUnion Rags (USA) (Dixie Union (USA) - Tempo (USA)), but nothing about 150 seconds couldn’t undo. Given a perfect ground-saving ride by John Velazquez, the handsome bay colt needed every inch of the stretch, but fought through an opening inside pacesetting Paynter (Awesome Again) for a neck victory in yesterday’s GI Belmont Stakes.
Fourteen months after their Big Brown (Boundary) was eased in the Belmont Stakes, IEAH Stables signed the ticket on the Dixie Union (Dixieland Band) colt out of Tempo (Gone West) for $145,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale in the summer of 2010. They offered the bay at the same auction house’s Florida Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, and he attracted the eye of many a horse identifier, including his breeder, who either had seller’s remorse or just wanted a Classic-looking racehorse. Phyllis Wyeth purchased the horse who would become Union Rags on a bid of $390,000 and soon turned him over to Michael Matz, who conditioned Barbaro (Dynaformer) to a dominating victory in the 2006 GI Kentucky Derby. And her re-acquisition did little to disappoint early on.
Union Rags rallied from seventh of nine to take his five-furlong debut over the Delaware main track July 12 before decimating the field by 7 1/4 lengths in a sloppy renewal of the GII Saratoga Special Stakes at Saratoga August 15. He skipped the GI Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes in September in favor of the GI Champagne Stakes the following month. Sent off the 6-5 chalk that afternoon, Union Rags was patiently ridden and was snookered at a crucial stage for about a quarter of a mile, but streaked away when the daylight came to hand Alpha (Bernardini) a 5 1/4-length defeat. Favored to complete an undefeated campaign in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he sat a disastrous four-wide trip as Hansen (Tapit) set the pace inside. He couldn’t quite get to the pacesetter and settled for second, his Eclipse dreams dashed. He began 2012 with obviously high expectations and suggested he’d be the divisional heavy with an effortless four-length score in the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes February 26. A somewhat disappointing third following a questionable ride in the GI Florida Derby March 31, Union Rags was bounced around at the start of the May 5 GI Kentucky Derby, was taken up nearing the half-mile pole and did exceeding well to finish seventh, 7 1/2 lengths behind I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley). Would there be a ‘Rags-to-Riches’ story in the Belmont?
In an effort to change their luck, connections made a switch from Julien Leparoux to John Velazquez, who won his first Belmont astride the filly Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy) in 2007. Unmolested at the break this time around, Union Rags drifted back to about midfield as upstart and third wagering choice Paynter (Awesome Again) was ridden for speed by Mike Smith, already second aboard Bodemeister (Empire Maker) in the Derby and GI Preakness Stakes. Following an opening quarter mile in a fairly quick :23.72, Paynter was then allowed to cover an internal half-mile in :51 as positions remained largely unchanged with another six furlongs still ahead of them. Velazquez took a look behind him shortly thereafter and asked Union Rags to get just a touch closer to Paynter, who picked up the tempo a bit and covered the mile in 1:38.85. Atigun and Leparoux moved in unison with Union Rags, though forced overland, but loomed a serious threat four wide at the quarter pole. Paynter, looking to give Ahmed Zayat his first Classic victory after several agonizing defeats, hit the eighth pole still going well, but Smith had vacated the fence and left an inviting opening for Union Rags and Velazquez to go through, if good enough. And that Union Rags proved, as he dug in tenaciously and grabbed the long-time leader in the final 40 yards for a hard-earned success.
“We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential,” a clearly relieved Michael Matz commented. “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 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 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.”
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News