Updated on 05/25/2012 11:52AM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Velazquez to replace Leparoux aboard Union Rags

Barbara D. Livingston
Michael Matz (left) and assistant trainer Peter Brette (second from left) inspect Union Rags following his seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

John Velazquez has picked up the mount on Union Rags, trainer Michael Matz said Tuesday.

The switch was not a surprise. The connections of Union Rags were not happy with how things unfolded for Union Rags in his last two starts, both with Julien Leparoux. And Velazquez was considered one of the top contenders to replace him.

Leparoux had ridden Union Rags in the Kentucky Derby, in which Union Rags finished seventh after a troubled trip. Leparoux also rode Union Rags in the Florida Derby, in which he finished third.

“We felt we had to make a change,” said Matz, who trains Union Rags for Phyllis Wyeth. “What happened before, in the last two races, it can happen to any one of them. He doesn’t look like he’s difficult to ride. He does have a big, long stride, and you need to let him use that stride.”

Matz said several riders were considered, including Ramon Dominguez and Joel Rosario.

“This is what we came up with. I hope we made the right decision,” said Matz, who said Velazquez and his agent, Angel Cordero Jr., made a multi-race commitment to Union Rags. “We wanted somebody that was up in New York.”

Union Rags is at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. Matz said Union Rags is scheduled to work there later this week. He will have another work there next week, with Velazquez scheduled to work him that day. Matz said Union Rags would not arrive at Belmont Park until just days before the Belmont Stakes.

Matz said he informed Leparoux on Sunday that he was going to be replaced, but said he would use Leparoux on other horses.

“He understands,” Matz said. “There’s a lot of money at stake. Whether it was his fault or the horse’s fault, it just didn’t work out.”

– additional reporting by David Grening


Bob More than 1 year ago
Does it still hold true that NO horse has won the Belmont without racing there beforehand?
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Not true, horses had won the Belmont Stakes without racing at Belmont Park before. The most recent example is Ruler on Ice.
Peter Sipari More than 1 year ago
Smart move by Matz. Leparoux is a good jockey but JV is at the top and well easier to communicate to.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Great horses show their talent when it matters. Even after the derby i believed union rags was the best three year old in the country and lost due to the poor race riding of julien. His european style just doesn't fit this colt. Putting john on union rags only makes sense. He's the best rider in the country and knows belmont inside out and backwards. everyone concentrates on pedigree and surface excuses in these races when it really comes down to training and heart. its true you cannot make a sprinter into a router or vice versa. but i believe given a chance to really run union rags has the raw ability to get any distance on any surface. he's a huge colt with an even bigger stride. the problem is that when a colt of his size has to check repeatedly in a race it costs them precious time. large horses take time to get going and poor riding in tight quarters inhibits their ability. is rags a better colt? i have my doubts after watching the courage of IHA in his preakness victory. running down a front runner of bode's talent where he was allowed to relax was enormous. showed his heart and desire to win. belmont lokks like his proving ground. Matz will have no more excuses. John vs. Mario... come on its horse vs. horse now. trainer vs. trainer. love ya rags. hope you can overcome your show cicuit connections and run to your full ability win or lose. you deserve that much.
Ian Broomfield More than 1 year ago
I just don't understand Matz's thinking here. Why even run UR when his pedigree and his running style are telling you he will not get a 1 1/2. Find an appropriate race for him that suits his style and run there. He is more a miler than anything else kinda like Quality Road was and that was another mistake trying to run him in the Classic.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Pedigree maybe. I don't see how Union Rags' running style is detrimental to winning the Belmont Stakes. In fact I don't even see a pattern. He appears to be able to win from anywhere. In the 4 wins, he won: - on the engine 21 and 4/5th first quarter and outbreaking Trinniberg - tracking about 2L off - closing from midpack - closing from the back You couldn't possibly be talking about his strides right? His run in the Champagne at Belmont was a beauty. He looked poised between horses, made up ground around the turn with long powerful strides and then waited patiently behind horses. In the stretch he was willing when rider guided him inside towards the rail until the hole was slammed shut, then quickly side stepped a couple of paths out and exploded!! Or did you mean his 3 losses where: - one of them he was wide throughout. This is a problem for any horse. Castellano was riding him with extreme confidence in the BC Juvenile. I still cannot believe he didn't run down Hansen, but that's way better than Leparoux getting him trapped, when he got to run the races were already over. - two of them he was close to the rail. Union Rags can win from the rail. That's why Castellano gunned him from post 1 in the Saratoga Special. In the Kentucky Derby, he was side by side with Went the Day Well at the half mile pole. Johnny V worked out a flying finish for Went the Day Well, while Leparoux continued to bungle until the 1/8th pole. The Frenchman was so embarrassed that he couldn't even look at Michael Matz immediately after the dismount. I really have no opinion whether Johnny V is a good match. I just know that a jockey change has got to be made. It really doesn't matter who. How about Mike Luzzi or the ilk? Why not? He could be 4th choice and a really worthwhile gamble. It would have been more fun if Michael Matz had the stones to do what Bob Baffert did with Lookin at Lucky - just find any 3rd string young jockey and prove to the world that pretty much anyone could win with this horse as long as he listens to instructions.
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
NYRA racing fans talk waaaaayyyyyy too much about jockeys.
sal ear More than 1 year ago
No offense or disparagement towards Union Rags - I wish URgs the BEST of luck! I felt terrible when this acclaimed racehorse had such difficulty in KDerby....I hope URgs regains his stature & confidence in Belmont & has a great ride! BEST of luck to him! RE: ur comment abt losses: "one of them he was wide throughout. This is a problem for any horse". Well......it didn't seem to be a problem for SECRETARIAT in his 1973 KENTUCKY DERBY or PREAKNESS, ya think? .....do you recall, in the '73 PREAKNESS, when SEC was LAST, and he moved to the outside, JUST BEFORE heading into the first curve? Amazing huh? 'Suicide Move'; but Sec adroitly pulled it off, and moved from last to FIRST rounding the 1st curve....do you think this was 'over-rated'? Of course, the rest (as is said) is history. (I'd sensed you think SEC is a bit over-rated). Just felt it was a good idea to point this out to you - particularly considering your statement.... I hope Union Rags has GREAT Success in the Belmont! Just offering some info; Secretariat ran the most astonishing Trip Crown we've seen yet......He defined the term 'Super Horse'. Have a nice day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If Matz had any hope after the derby of UR getting 3-year old of the year, he can forget it now. Should have run in him in the Preakness. UR would have to win Belmont, Travers, JC Gold Cup, and BC Classic to get 3 year old of the year, over IHA's SA Derby, K Derby Preakness. IHA by winning the Belmont and triple crown will lock up 3 year old and horse of the year eclipse awards. UR missed getting 2 year old and 3 year old awards.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
The Eclipse Award 3YO of the Year is a done deal. No horse has never not win that honor after winning 2 legs of the Triple Crown races.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree. I was going to type "...BC Classic, and probably not even then" but I was too lazy.
mrm More than 1 year ago
The last thing on the minds of UR's connections is top 3yo. They just want to get the horse straightened out. I don't think this horse has run to his potential (whatever that is).
Chad More than 1 year ago
Jockey's fault?!?! Horse's fault!??! Come on mike get your head on straight. Stop playing the blame game (especially with the media). Point the finger of justice back at yourself and finally accept Union rags is NOT Barbaro!
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Finally somebody who gets it. This is a tough crop of three year olds. Barbaro was a man among men so to speak. He had the pleasure of an easier bunch to run against which helped cover his trainers flaws hence no excuses. Just tragedy. Maybe an equipment change like a tongue tie to help his jockey more or at least a sure-win. Or maybe Matz needs to return to show jumping hobby horses and leave racing to expereinced horsemen. Its apples and oranges here.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Another play on sentimental favorite Barbaro. No one has ever said that Union Rags was Barbaro. In fact, he will never be as popular as Barbaro. Barring anything tragically upsetting happening to him, Union Rags will never have as many fans as Barbaro, 95% of whom never heard of him until he got hurt, some of them with a fanaticism bordering that of a Bible-toting Evangelist or a Quran-pounding Islamist - I love Barbaro like no other, He is the best the one and only - I wonder if any of them realizes that Barbaro had about a 50% chance of finishing second that day if he hadn't gotten hurt, rest in peace and no disrespect. Barbaro's achievements are limited to his signature win in the Kentucky Derby and a versatility turf score in the Tropical Park Derby. It appears that Union Rags' owner is ready and willing to enjoy him running into the next year or two as long as he is healthy and continue to perform at a top level. So at this point, Union Rags' potential achievements are still limitless. The verdict is pending still.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Barbaro wasn't even the best 3 year old of his generation. Bernadini was
sal ear More than 1 year ago
Pardon my ERROR: "Barbaro didn't race after [Belmont].....going INTO [Belmont]" I meant Kentucky Derby.
Chad More than 1 year ago
Wrong buddy. That's not a play on Barbaro, its a play on Matz.iq
Kenneth More than 1 year ago
I have never witnessed a jockey carrying a horse through the FINISH-LINE! “Union Rags and Dullahan come to mind that are going to be extremely tough and they’re fresh-legged and ready to go, but we’re pumped,” O’Neill said. “Our horse came out of this race in great shape and as long as he stays injury-free, we got a big, big chance.” After watching and winning with I'll Have Another, I will have to stay with this BEAST, especially @ 1 1/2 mile distance. In in his BLOOD! Read more: ​http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-​sports/trainer-doug-o-neill-ready-shot-​winning-triple-crown-june-9-belmont-sta​kes-article-1.1081717#ixzz1viFLSsRQ
Rob Beaudoin More than 1 year ago
Imagine owning Optimizer and Lukas is feeeding you the BS telling you he belongs in these races? All the while they're wasting starts and money in races where he has NO SHOT!! This horse should be given a break and then brought back in a first level allowance on the grass then go from there. Hopefully he hasn't botttomed him out already beyond repair. LUKAS it's OK to miss one TC race!!!
Joe More than 1 year ago
Better question since when has Lucas done right by his horses in the last 5 years?
Fortunefootball More than 1 year ago
how does this have anything to do with the article about Union Rags jockey situation?
Joe More than 1 year ago
Just stating the obvious as to why Optimizer is in the race.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
If I'm the owner, I would like the bragging right of starting in all 3 triple crown races. It's better to run him than to get a timed work.
Joe More than 1 year ago
Bragging rights is nothing when your talking about what is right for the horse. Consitantly running a horse over his head is not good and Lucas does this all the time. Optimizer is a nice turf horse and should have been pointed in that direction.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
I know. I just almost always think about myself first. Telling it like it is, I'm only human.
Joe More than 1 year ago
The jockey change could make all the difference in Union Rags as he'll be put into the right place adn won't get stopped, but, can someone explain someting to me about 2 3 year olds off the tripple crown trail. Why don't Hanson and Trinnenberg run in the Met Mile especially Hanson. You get good breeding credentials and make money there as a 3 year old if you look at the race they get 13 pounds from what they're handicapped at plus if they win they get a distinction of beating older horses. It seems to me more and more trainers are trying to find the easy way out rather than do what's best for the horse and owners.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
Hansen is no where near fast enough for that race. Come on!!! That race will go 1:09 and change and still finish in 1:35 or under. Hansen needs an airplane to go that fast. Is that a good enough explanation for you.
Joe More than 1 year ago
Hansen hasn't run with only 114 pounds on his back plus how is the Woody Stephens going to go any slower with Trinenberg in it. He's better off going in the grade 1.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Hansen is already a G1 winner. Ever since Unbridled's Song, Vindication, Johannesburg etc., any BC Juvenile winner is already a top stallion prospect. Adding a win in the Met Mile could scarcely increase Hansen's value as a stallion despite the Met Mile's reputation as a stallion making race. All supporters of Union Rags must review the 2011 BC Juvenile and the 2012 Preakness. Pretend that the Belmont Stakes comes down to these two in deep stretch, a Union Rags win has better pay 5x more to be worth it. Judging from this thread, I'll Have Another will probably go off at 2-1 and Union Rags 4-1. I also get the impression that Hansen's connection is lowering their expectation, they are nowhere near as confident anymore. It was sky high after the Gotham, tempered over time as other top contenders emerged, then dropped a few notches after the Blue Grass. Finally after the Derby, they are back to the level before the BC Juvenile. Hell, maybe Hansen himself needs some confidence builder. I know a lot of handicappers will love the turnback and 50,000 women at the track hoping to witness a triple crown moment will each throw $2 to win on the almost all white colt, he'll be even money favorite. Could very well blow away the field but I'll take my shot with Currency Swap who will definitely go off at a good price if the field includes two Derby class droppers and Baffert shipper Drill. Currency Swap can rate and had already beaten Trinniberg before. Drill is 3 for 3 at 7f but Currency Swap is 2 for 2 himself and Baffert's winning percentage in graded stakes races in NY and KY has very ordinary in recent years. A WP bet will easily yield 25-50% ROI even if he finishes second. Music to the ears of heavy chalk-eaters like me who shamelessly live off weekly cashback. Can't wait!
Rob Beaudoin More than 1 year ago
I'll have another at 2/1????? Everything you say is whacked. IHA will be 3/5 at the most. I'd say 2/5. And without looking at field no SHOT hansen is even money.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
It's OK, you haven't followed horseracing long enough and you don't have the IQ to scramble potential odds in your head, that's all. Seattle Slew was 2/5 in his weak 8 horse Belmont Stakes field, he was unbeaten and odds on in both the Derby and the Preakness. From looking at I'll Have Another's odds in the Derby and the Preakness, it will be impossible for him to go off at less than even money in a Belmont Stakes with more than 10 horses.
Joe More than 1 year ago
1 other thing I'm not going to mention Holybull as he was 1 of the greats, but, Hansen is cetainly a better animal than Honour And Glory was and he won the race as a 3 year old. I know, because, I won money on him and was hoping to do the same with Hansen.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
D Wayne Lukas took a shot and he was right - that year. This year Hansen has no shot against a tracker like To Honor and Serve who could still improve, and Caleb's Posse - nobody closes like Caleb's Posse. You really have to be there with the full view to really appreciate it, even when he didn't get there like in the Tom Fool it was such a rush, one that you can't even get from illegal drugs.
Joe More than 1 year ago
The thing is the weight is the huge factor in that race noone has any idea how Hansen will do if he runs at 114 or 115. That was the reason Lucas took the shot 13 pounds is a ton of weight for a talemted 3 year old to get. I agree he probably can't handle To Honor And Serve or Caleb's Posse, but, if he ever was the 13 pounds would help plus he'd probably get a pound or 2 from each which would me 14 to 15 pounds. The way the Met Mile is set up it's very favorable to talented 3 year olds..
Diane Henkel More than 1 year ago
Agree with jockey change. If UR doesn't go good, then blame the horse.