Updated on 06/09/2012 9:20PM

2012 Belmont Stakes: Velazquez in right place at right time to pick up mount on Union Rags

Barbara D. Livingston
John Velazquez celebrates after winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Union Rags.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Traditionally, the nation’s premier jockeys and their agents would begin lining up, securing and then protecting the most coveted Triple Crown mounts from the moment the 3-year-old season begins each winter. But John Velazquez has proven over the past two seasons that a better strategy for winning Triple Crown races is simply to be available and in the right place at the right time.

For the second time in two years, Velazquez did just that. He picked up the ride aboard Animal Kingdom 24 hours before his victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and got the mount on Union Rags only 19 days before driving him through a narrow opening up the rail to a thrilling neck decision over Paynter in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

“I guess I’m the lucky one, that’s the only way to describe it,” said Velazquez. “I have to say we’ve been looking at this horse for a long time. I told (agent Angel Cordero Jr.) at the beginning of the winter that if we can get on Union Rags it would be perfect; I think he will be the horse of the future.”

But when the mount on the Michael Matz-trained Union Rags first became available - when his regular rider Javier Castellano opted to stick with trainer Todd Pletcher’s Algorithms - Velazquez was already committed to another horse. It wasn't a Triple Crown candidate but his old friend Animal Kingdom, whom he was scheduled to ride in the Dubai World Cup the same day as the Florida Derby.

“We couldn’t give Michael a three-race commitment because we had to go to Dubai with Animal Kingdom,” said Velazquez.

As a result, Matz chose Julien Leparoux to replace Castellano on Union Rags for the Florida Derby and subsequently the Kentucky Derby. Ironically, Animal Kingdom never made it to Dubai due to injury, leaving Velazquez to watch the Florida Derby from his home in south Florida.

[BELMONT STAKES: Replay, chart, full DRF coverage]

“We’ve been looking at this horse for a long time and were hoping to be able to ride him if the opportunity came up,” said Velazquez. “I guess it worked out good for me today.”
Union Rags gave Velazquez his second Belmont Stakes win in 16 tries, with his first victory coming with Rags to Riches in 2007. He’d also finished second in the race on three other occasions. And his experience both in the Belmont and over the unique 1 1/2-mile Belmont Park oval were two of the reasons why Matz turned to Velazquez once he decided to replace Leparoux following Union Rags’s second  consecutive eventful trip, which came in the Kentucky Derby.

“He knows Belmont and he’s a strong rider - those were some of the things that went into the decison to pick John,” said Matz. “Whether he got up there or he didn’t today, he still rode a great race. I just told him to break, get him in a nice rhythm, and go from there. And that’s exactly what he did.”

Whether Velazquez and Cordero will use similar strategy when plotting out next year’s Triple Crown mounts, that remains to be seen.

“I guess when it’s meant to be for you, it’s just meant to be for you,” said Velazquez.


Francisco Javier Diaz Fernandez More than 1 year ago
Has anybody ever asked Baffert if he'll run the "great" Bodemeister against the allowance winner Paynter ??????
JeanK More than 1 year ago
I believe Johnny V looked so happy on Union Rags, excellent match. They were in sync every step of the way.
Mike B More than 1 year ago
My six year old grand son could have told you not to whip with your left hand when on the rail
Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
Uh, he really had no choice but to hit Paynter left-handed. Are you guys all forgetting he had Atigun laying on him on his outside. That kind of precludes a right-handed stick. Besides, JV and UR were sitting in the equivalent to Mike's blind spot in a car. He had no idea they were there until they started coming through. And props to UR who JV said hestitated a moment like he was afraid Paynter would come over on him if he tried for the hole. The horse sucked it up and went through a very small hole for a very large horse, showing he's recovering from the banging around he took in the Derby. The time was slow, but when you look at it in context, you have to kind of throw out the time. UR had no control over the pace set, which were VERY slow fractions after the first quarter. He can't get a fast finishing time if he's not running free, but is instead waiting behind the slow-time pace setter for a hole to open up. There's no telling what kind of final 1/8 he might have run in if he'd been running free.
Joe Greble More than 1 year ago
To the Union Rags camp, congrats on winning over one of the worst Belmont fields in recent memory. Another 96 Beyer Speed Figure from Rags who once again proved he did not improve a step between 2 and 3. 'Rags, Ruler on Ice, Sarava, Da 'Tara, Jazil proves once again the Belmont has turned into a joke..... It can be said without a shadow of a doubt I'll Have Another, Bode and Creative Cause are by far the cream of this crop.... Again, congrats to all who took 5/2 and ARE STILL A NEGATIVE ROI when backing Union Rags! Nit wits......
Will More than 1 year ago
Awww, did little Joey lose some money in the Belmont?
Joe Greble More than 1 year ago
I had all in the pick so yes it was a bad result for..... It was just a bad field populated by a bunch of slow horses..... 2:30 and change? 96 Beyer? What a joke. Can't see how anybody could have been 5/2
Sal Cinaglia More than 1 year ago
Hey Joe, Those grapes were sour anyway. LOL loser
Jason Scott More than 1 year ago
Agreed; I'd also add Paynter to the list of the best 3 year-olds now. Big step up in a number of ways, and barring a rare mistake from one of the best riders there is, he would've held on. Of course, UR isn't as bad as I thought he was, but I wouldn't bet him to top Paynter or Bode in future meetings. I'm thinking one of Baffert's pair is going to win the BC classic.
. More than 1 year ago
All this improve didn't improve blah blah blah. Get off it so called handicappers. You know nothing aboht racing especially if your using Beyers. LOL. Novices!
Mike Rutledge More than 1 year ago
All JV & AC have to do is wait for another horse with 'Rags' in its name!
ROBIN More than 1 year ago
I think that Mike Smith was more responsible fo Uion rags winning the race than Johnny V was.Valesques trapped Rags on the rail with no where to go and only Smiths poor ride [he didnt even hit the horse throughout the strech and hand rode Paynter thinking he had the race won].
prose More than 1 year ago
Robin, the next time your car runs out of gas, hit it with a stick. See if that will make it go.
Hendo More than 1 year ago
what race we're you watching Robin??? Smith was hitting him with his left down the stretch-he never knew JV was close inside.
Eli Dawkins More than 1 year ago
Anonymous you have no idea what you are talking about have you ever heard of Steve Cauthen he is the greatest rider this country have ever seen my friend.
Mike B More than 1 year ago
Eli do you base this on a five week stretch 34 years ago? Stevie took off across the pond before he was old enough to drink legally here
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Johnny V can ride, but his agent Cordero was the best jockey there ever was. That includes all of them.
Jerry Sabo More than 1 year ago
Top 5 for sure, cant forget Shoe, McCarron, Stevens, Bailey, Arcaro and a bunch of others but he is right up there with the greats.
Eddie S More than 1 year ago
except for Pincay
Jerry Sabo More than 1 year ago
Forgot about him. Oversight.
John Flynn More than 1 year ago
John Doesn't Seem To Be Getting Too Much work Lately. Castellano appears to have taken over for Pletcher.
Jerry Sabo More than 1 year ago
Your right, and I think that JV and his agent Cordero wanted to have more opportunities to ride outside of Pletchers barn. If you notice also, Pletcher doesn't seem to have the massive stable he had last year.
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
PETER BETTE / MICHAEL MATZ / JV : Congrats my friends ! Peter Brette , you deserve so much Credit for your bility to keep this colt Focused - after the Derby . Thanks for everything : Thanks for allowing me to visit and join in on the FUN - JOURNEY thru this Triple Crown Series . At Least For Now - ANYONE CAN SAY WHAT-EVER THEY DESIRE REGUARDING ( UNION RAGS ) . The matter of the Truth is " BELMONT STAKES " is what make a ( CHAMPION ) - not the Derby ! I Am So Darn HAPPY That UNION RAGS Finished Business ! I had NO - FEAR in wagering $10,000 WIN on this colt . Honestly - I thought this colt would WIN by 7 going Away : but I Will settle for a WIN ( Any Way It Comes ) ........................ This just mad my DERBY 1 TRI WHEEL 1st 2nd 3rd ( Loss ) so much Nicer . AGAIN PETER BRETTE : THANKSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
Meathead More than 1 year ago
congrats doug on your winning ticket. MH01