Updated on 05/25/2012 10:52AM

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