06/09/2012 8:19PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Smith takes the blame for Paynter’s defeat

Tom Keyser
Jockey Mike Smith finished second in the Belmont Stakes aboard Paynter. He finished second in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Mike Smith took the blame for Paynter’s neck loss to Union Rags in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, a result that capped a torturous Triple Crown series for him, owner Ahmed Zayat, and trainer Bob Baffert.

This loss came five weeks after Bodemeister – ridden by Smith, owned by Zayat, and trained by Baffert – lost the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths to I’ll Have Another and three weeks after he lost the Preakness by a neck, also to I’ll Have Another. Essentially, they lost all three Triple Crown races by two lengths.

Smith, who had Paynter in front from the outset, said it was his fault for allowing an opening along the rail large enough for John Velazquez to slip Union Rags through in deep stretch, catching Paynter with about 50 yards to go.

“I’m going to take the blame,” Smith said after he got off Paynter. “I’m an old veteran, no one’s supposed to get through on me, and he did. I thought I had it for that one moment; he stepped out just enough and he got up in there.”

Smith hit Paynter left-handed three times in the stretch, and Paynter drifted off just enough to let Velazquez get through.

“I wish I had made him go around,” Smith added. “Maybe, it would have been a different story.”

Actually, it was the same story for Smith throughout this Triple Crown. As was the case in the Derby and Preakness with Bodemeister, Paynter, making just his fifth career start, made the early lead. He set fractions of 23.72 seconds for the quarter, 49.23 for the half, 1:14.72 for six furlongs, and 1:38.85 for the mile while maintaining a one-length lead.

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

Baffert said turning for home “I really felt good about this horse.”

Baffert, who was not angry as he spoke in the Belmont Trustees Room, said he thought Smith “got excited, hit him left-handed, and he drifted off [the rail] a little bit. That’s horse racing; what are you going to do?”

Baffert, who has won nine Triple Crown races, including the 2001 Belmont with Point Given, took the three narrow losses in this Triple Crown series rather calmly.

“They ran their race and they got beat,” said Baffert, who suffered a heart attack in late March in Dubai. “Once they hang the official, it’s over; there’s no more crying or complaining. He ran a great race. I was trying to get this horse to the classics, and we got him to one.”

Zayat, who has yet to win a Triple Crown race, but who has finished second in the Derby in three of the last four years while finishing second in this year’s Preakness and Belmont, was apoplectic.

“Torture,” Zayat said while sitting with his family in the box seats at Belmont. “How much can I take?”

Zayat’s emotions were a mix of frustration and anger because he said he gave Smith instructions to keep Paynter on the rail.

[BELMONT DAY: Full stakes results and video replays]

“There’s one instruction I personally gave to Mike Smith, ‘Please hug the rail and stay on the rail,’ ” Zayat said. “This is a very young horse; going a mile and a half this is a monstrous effort, but to come this close. Maybe I can cry this time.”

Zayat, then pointing to celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who was sitting behind him, said, “I’m going to flip hamburgers.”