Sunday, 10 June 2012
: Union Rags charged along the rail in the final stages to win the 144th Belmont Stakes, final leg of the US Triple Crown, by a head from the pacemaking Paynter in New York on Saturday.
The exciting finish helped to erase the disappointment shadowing the event after Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another was retired from racing because of tendonitis in his left front leg on Friday.
The injury denied the colt his chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
The Michael Matz-trained Union Rags, seventh in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness to target the Belmont and the strategy paid off when he outstayed Paynter at the end of the testing mile and a half, helped by a perfect ride from John Velzquez who never left the fence on the second favourite.
"He had a great trip in there. Incredible," Velazquez said, riding the colt for the first time.
"I don't have words to describe it."
The victory was the second Belmont Stakes for Velazquez. He also won the race in 2007 with Rags to Riches.
Matz, who trained Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, prepares the homebred Union Rags for Phyllis Wyeth's Chadds Ford Stable and has now won twice at Belmont Park, taking the G1 Champagne Stakes last year in his only other start at the New York track.
Wyeth bought Union Rags back at auction for $390,000 in 2011 after selling him as a yearling.
As a 2YO Union Rags was the favorite to become the juvenile champion after his 5 1/4-length romp in the Champagne but then lost by a head to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Union Rags has now won five of his eight starts and has banked $1,798,800.
Paynter's defeat was the third second place for trainer Bob Baffert in this year's Triple Crown series after Bodemeister lost both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness to I'll Have Another.
Paynter's rider Mike Smith blamed himself for the loss, saying he should not have left the rail open for Velazquez and Union Rags in the straight.
Favourite Dullahan was trapped back in the pack along the back straight and never came into contention.
Before the race, I'll Have Another was honoured with a retirement ceremony.