Union Rags, the co-favorite after Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another was retired with an injury, won the Belmont Stakes.
Union Rags finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, his most recent race before today. I’ll Have Another won that race and the Preakness in Baltimore on May 19, the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Union Rags, ridden by John Velazquez and trained by Michael Matz, won the Belmont in two minutes, 30.42 seconds. It was a photo finish over Paynter, trained by Bob Baffert. Atigun, trained by Ken McPeek, was third at the track in Elmont, New York. Union Rags paid $7,50, $4.20 and $3.40; Paynter, $5.10, $3.90; and Atigun $10.60. Dullahan, the other co-favorite at 5-2, finished seventh.
“We finally got to see the real Union Rags,” Matz said.
The colt won $600,000 of the $1 million purse.
Matz, who said he wasn’t happy with Union Rags’s performance in the Derby after the colt was crowded coming out of the gate, skipped the Preakness and changed jockeys, selecting Velazquez over Julien Leparoux.
Hall of Fame jockey Velazquez was pinned against the rail by Atigun and behind Paynter as he came down the stretch. Jockey Mike Smith allowed Paynter to drift just enough to allow Union Rags to squeeze through.
“I was just hoping I could get enough room to get him in,” Velazquez said.
Smith said at every pole except the wire he thought he had the Belmont won for Baffert, whose Bodemeister came in second in the Derby and Preakness to I’ll Have Another.
“I’m a veteran and they’re not supposed to get through the fence on me,” he said. “There wasn’t much room in there but Union Rags has a lot of courage.”
Union Rags was bred by Phyllis Wyeth, who sold the yearling at the Fasig-Tiption New York Saratoga 2010 Select Yearling Sale for $145,000, then bought him back as a 2-year-old for $390,000. She is the wife of American artist Jamie Wyeth.
A victory by I’ll Have Another today would have made him the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Instead, he was retired yesterday after being diagnosed with signs of tendinitis in his left front leg. Trainer Doug O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam decided to end his racing career rather than wait as long as a year for him to rehabilitate before returning to the track.
More than 100,000 racing fans had purchased tickets to watch I’ll Have Another in the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes; NBC-TV said the crowd was 85,811. The colt would have become the 12th winner of U.S. thoroughbred racing’s biggest prize. The most recent horse to win the first two races of the series was Big Brown four years ago. Unbeaten Big Brown was pulled up at the final turn when the colt failed to respond to the jockey’s directions in the 2008 race.
I’ll Have Another’s trainer has been embroiled in controversy since the colt won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, beating Bodemeister for the second time since the Derby.
O’Neill was fined $15,000 and is facing a 45-day suspension starting no sooner than July 1 for a California racing violation. He was sanctioned after excessive levels of total carbon dioxide were found in a sample from Argenta, a filly who finished eighth in the sixth race at Del Mar Racetrack on Aug. 25, 2010. Under California rules, the trainer is accountable for ensuring a horse’s condition.
O’Neill twice has been found guilty of administering a banned combination of substances, known in racing as a milkshake, at a California racetrack, the New York Times said last month. The newspaper also said its analysis found O’Neill-trained horses break down or show signs of injury at more than twice the rate of the national average.
The trainer said he never had a horse test positive for an illegal medication and that he would appeal his suspension.
“I definitely will contest, he said on NBC TV today. ‘‘I wanted to wait until after the Belmont.’’
O’Neill escorted I’ll Have Another to the stakes barn one minute before the noon deadline on June 6. Two days later, the 3-year-old chestnut colt’s racing career ended.
O’Neill said he plans to return I’ll Have Another to the colt’s home track at Hollywood Park in California. In the meantime, Reddam will be entertaining offers from breeding farm owners who want to purchase the breeding rights to the stallion.
Doug Cauthen, 49, thoroughbred manager and owner of Doug Cauthen Thoroughbred Management LLC, said he expects I’ll Have Another to be valued at $4 million to $6 million. Stud fees may be as high as $20,000, he estimated.
‘‘I think now you have to rachet things down a little bit,” Cauthen said. “He still won two legs of the Triple Crown, so I think he’s a $15,000 to $20,000 stallion depending on where he goes and how aggressive they are.”
Reddam, speaking on NBC before the race said he prefers the competition side of the sport.
“I love racing,” Reddam said. “I’m not a big fan of breeding.”