06/03/2012 11:16AM

2012 Belmont Stakes: Union Rags impresses Velazquez on Sunday with powerful work at Fair Hill

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Maggie Kimmitt
Union Rags and John Velazquez work alongside Roddickton at Fair Hill on Sunday. Union Rags went five furlongs in 58.50, impressing Velazquez.

ELKTON, Md. - As John Velazquez galloped a strong Union Rags through the stretch of the near-empty Fair Hill training center dirt track Sunday morning, he thought to himself ‘Oh my God, what is this thing?’ ”

About a minute later he found out. Sitting on Union Rags for the first time, Velazquez guided the powerhouse 3-year-old through a five-furlong workout that Daily Racing Form timed in 58.50 seconds. Michael Matz, the trainer of Union Rags, caught him in 59 seconds. Matz was aboard a stable pony on the far turn.

[BELMONT STAKES: Video updates, expected field, early odds]

Whether from a time standpoint or a visual perspective, the work - conducted under bright blue skies and over a freshly harrowed surface - was most impressive and served to confirm Union Rags as a legitimate threat to I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown hopes in next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

Velazquez, who is replacing Julien Leparoux in the irons, drove from Long Island to Fair Hill Saturday night after the races at Belmont Park. Velazquez worked a horse for trainer Graham Motion earlier in the morning at Fair Hill - where conditions were pristine - and then climbed aboard Union Rags at around 8:45 a.m.

After a couple of tours of the shed row, Union Rags and Velazquez followed Matz out to the freshly manicured main track. Velazquez and workmate Roddickton, a 6-year-old four-time winner with exercise rider Peter Brette aboard, came on the track at the three-quarter-pole gap and backed up to the middle of the far turn of the track.

After turning around, Velazquez kept Union Rags galloping behind Brette and Roddickton as they came through the stretch and around the first turn.

At the five-furlong pole, Roddickton broke off about 1 1/2 lengths in front of Union Rags, who was being held snugly by Velazquez. Union Rags went in his first eighth in 11.85 seconds, the quarter in 23.41 and three furlongs in 34.68 seconds while still following Roddickton.

At the quarter pole, Velazquez eased Union Rags to the outside of Roddickton and at the eighth pole Union Rags left his workmate. He got his final quarter in 23.82 seconds - finishing about four lengths in front at the wire - and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.38.

“Very nice, very impressive,” Velazquez said. “Thankfully, I didn’t let him out too soon. He would’ve gone by the horse very easy. I waited with him till the quarter pole, eased out a little bit from behind him, and at the eighth pole I just gave him his head and he was gone. I didn’t have to ask him for anything. He did it by himself.”

Velazquez, who won 2007 Belmont aboard the filly Rags to Riches, said he had been an admirer of Union Rags since last year when he won the Saratoga Special and Champagne, the latter at Belmont Park.

When Matz was looking for a rider for Union Rags after regular rider Javier Castellano gave him up in February, Velazquez couldn’t commit because he was scheduled to ride Animal Kingdom in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31, the same day as the Florida Derby.

“Maybe it works out for the best and we get it done for the Belmont,” Velazquez said. “If he comes back to the [Champagne] in the Belmont, he’s going to be really tough to beat.”

Matz raised an eyebrow when told the workout time, but as he watched Union Rags cool out he seemed quite content with how the horse was recovering from the move.

“I thought he went nice, seems like he came back fine,” Matz said. “I’m glad Johnny made the effort to come down and sit on him. Johnny seemed to like him. He seemed to do that easy enough.”

After getting his bath, Union Rags reared up twice as his groom led him back towards the barn.
Shaking his head, Matz said, “Maybe we ought to do that again.”

Jesus Sahagun More than 1 year ago
Having owned Rags' great-grandmother Im a bit bias, BUT truth be told his bloodlines suggest that 1-1/2 miles in nooo problem! (as indicated by the success of our mare's daddy....a little old' horse named Secretariat). UR is a powerfull, impressive, developing colt that, in my opion, will do his best racing at 4
Jesus Sahagun More than 1 year ago
opinion.......sorry abouth the typo
Carson Horton More than 1 year ago
ANY horse has to be considered at least a 20-1 shot to win the Triple Crown after succesfully winning the first two legs. I don't care who it is, who their trainer is or what their story is.....Stepping in at this point and taking extremely short money on a horse like IHA is both foolish and bad money management. If you can leverage your return in the exotic pools and get 15-1 on a cold exacta box with Dullahan (which is not a bad idea), it may justify the risk because you are giving yourself a chance to be right even if IHA fails to win the race. I three horse exacta box would need to return at least 25-1 for the lowest combination among the 6 possible outcomes, and preferably more like 30-1. If you are going to venture into the trifecta pool then you owe it to yourself to include at least one or two well chosen longshots for the bottom rung as this it the kind of opportunity you are looking for to make a decent score. In a race like the Belmont, if Union Rags fails to fire and the exacta ends up consisting Dullahan and IHA then the payoff will skyrocket if you can get the right 15-1 or 20-1 shot into the third hole... You do want to have your ticket weighted to favor a 3rd place finish by Union Rags, if you feel strongly that this is the most likely outcome, but don't cheat yourself out of a chance $150-$200 trifecta 10 times if a horse like Paynter crashes the trifecta ticket.
Robert More than 1 year ago
Rags cant make the distance! $100 ex box IHA/Dullahan. $50 tri IHA/Dullahan with Rags. No other horses will be close! Dont waste ur money like the Preakness. Dont try to find val find value thats not there. sometime u just have to go big on the favs if u want to win money. Just the way it is sometimes. $100ex box in the Preakness Bode/IHA would have won u almost $800.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Don't even make sense, Dullahan's distance pedigree is just as bad as Union Rags. With Union Rags, you at least get a G1 winner on the same oval and the powerful big long strides that will be what's needed to win a 12f race. There's no explosion like in the Blue Grass after traveling 10.5f.
David Voelker More than 1 year ago
Second Dam of Union Rags won a stakes at 1-1/2mile, so Rags can handle it. I think he will win and make a great sire. A Dixie Union that can breed Classic Horses.
Mr 6 More than 1 year ago
PAYNTER and BOB BAFFERT WILL WIN THE BELMONT............
Gary T More than 1 year ago
Union Rags is the real deal. Easy exacta box Union Rags and IHA. then comes Paynter,Dullahan then Optimizer.
Rohan Mardio More than 1 year ago
If you've ever seen Union Rags up close, he will take your breath away. Union Rags is a massively impressive colt, he is like a locomotive that builds up energy over time and needs the space to unleash it. I've watched him, from the paddock to his gallop-outs. I can't fault him in any manner. On Saturday If Union Rags gets the space that he needs to run, I don't think any can match his powerful strides. Johnny said it best “If he comes back to the [Champagne] in the Belmont, he’s going to be really tough to beat.”
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Now make sure you get him to the church (er-a-jailhouse) on time. Safe trip, Rags.
Bob More than 1 year ago
I'm glad to see a couple of these trainers go back to fast workouts prior to big races. With Secretariat if he had a bullet work, he wouldn't lose. So-so work, he lost. Dullahan and Rags should be primed. Watch out for Baffert too-his horse seems to like the track.
Eddie S More than 1 year ago
The Rag wins a gallop. I just hope all the $2 bettors playing IHA will keep the price on Rags @ $10.00
R. Martin More than 1 year ago
Given how gullible "crowd mentality" is, you can rest assured you get better than $10 to win on Union Rags. The always 'one day late', two bucks to lose, suckers will make the favorite 3/5; thus guaranteeing 10 overlaid competitors.
The Drizzle More than 1 year ago
Gullible crowd mentality will bet IHA to 3/5? LOL. How about, it is unfortunate that everyone and their mother knows IHA stands the best chance to win the Belmont? Not saying he absolutely cannot be beat, but nonetheless, stands the best chance hands down
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
IHA will go off at 3-2 to 2-1.