06/09/2012 8:47PM

Hovdey: Belmont Stakes provides consolation, big and small

Barbara D. Livingston
Union Rags (right) gets through on the rail to defeat Paynter in the closing yards of the 144th Belmont Stakes.

In the jam-packed aisle of the Belmont Park box seat section, not long after the horses went under the wire in the 144th Belmont Stakes, Paul Reddam flattened himself against the railing as Michael Matz and the Union Rags entourage squeezed by, on the way to the winner’s circle. Matz paused long enough to commiserate once again with Reddam, but Reddam would have none of it.

"You’ve got a wonderful colt,” Reddam told the trainer.

Matz smiled and moved on, as if carried by a wave. Reddam watched, and for a man who’d just missed a chance to make racing history, seemed rather pleased.

"I’m heading for the windows,” said Reddam, a known horseplayer. "I tossed Dullahan and pounded the exacta. It’s not as good as winning the Triple Crown, but it’s a pretty good second best.”

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

So there it was, the 2012 Triple Crown season ending in a slam-bang finish at the end of a mile and one-half, with Reddam’s Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another back at the barn nursing the dicey tendon that knocked him out of the Belmont 24 hours earlier, and Union Rags back on top of the world he once seemed destined to own. As torches go, consider this one passed.

But hang on tight. It’s going to be a slippery devil. The pace-setting Paynter ran a brave race in narrow defeat, stepping in for his stablemate Bodemeister, an impressive runner-up to I’ll Have Another in both the Derby and the Preakness. If those three go on – Union Rags, Paynter, and Bodemeister – the summer and fall promises to be very entertaining.

Of course, such promises are regularly broken in a game that rests so delicately upon the legs of fragile young Thoroughbreds. As if to underscore the bittersweet temper of the day, I’ll Have Another received a warm reception in the Belmont saddling paddock in an unusual, but entirely appropriate, farewell appearance an hour before post time for the Belmont Stakes.

Sure, there were a few voices raised in protest. Wouldn’t be New York otherwise.

"Boo to dis! Boo to dis!” cried one fan, obviously here on vacation from the Carribean. “Poot ‘im inda gate!”

Well, they woulda if they coulda. Others were more appreciative.

"It’s just a darn shame, because he looks terrific, in great flesh,” said one particular visitor admiring I’ll Have Another.

The visitor was Eddie Maple, the retired Hall of Famer who knows what it’s like to miss a Belmont he seemed destined to win. Thirty years ago, in the spring of 1982, Maple was riding high with Conquistador Cielo. They’d skipped the Derby and the Preakness but jumped into the national consciousness with a bristling win in the Met Mile on Memorial Day against older horses. Trainer Woody Stephens had no hesitation about running the colt right back in five days in the Belmont Stakes, and Maple was licking his chops.

Then, on the day before the race, Maple crashed at Belmont and ended up watching the Belmont from the hospital as Conquistador Cielo won by 14 lengths under Laffit Pincay.

"They ran a TV cable up the outside of the hospital building so they could put a TV camera on me watching the race,” Maple said. "Only they moved me out of intensive care and into the cardiac ward so the trauma patients wouldn’t be disturbed. Heck, the way he won I still could have ridden him – except for the six broken ribs and the blood in my urine.”

Bad luck haunts horse racing like the ghost of Hamlet’s dad. The scratch of I’ll Have Another was a cold slap in the face for anyone who expected fairytales to come true. As for Union Rags, he was beginning to seem more like a gorgeous illusion than the real thing, until he bulldogged  through a tight hole inside Paynter late in the game to put his name back in lights.

Michael Matz was not surprised. Very pleased, but not surprised. He’d stuck to his guns that Union Rags was a better horse than the one who was so unceremoniously defeated in the Florida Derby, and then batted around like a beachball in Kentucky.

"It was unfortunate what happened in the Kentucky Derby with this horse, especially for his owner,” Matz said, referring to Phyllis Wyeth, whose adoration for her colt has transcended the fact that she has spent most of her life in a wheelchair.

"I mean, she’s not the healthiest woman in the world,” Matz noted. "Whether she’ll have another horse like this, who knows? But I’ll do anything I can to help her fulfill the dreams she’s had for this horse. I just can’t imagine what it’s like being fifty years in a wheelchair. She’s just a wonderful person.

 "I’ve had horses in the past for Phyllis,” Matz added. “Not like this one, but she said she’d have a good one someday. I guess she kept her promise.”

Ultimatehorselover More than 1 year ago
Ultimatehorselover More than 1 year ago
Paul Garcia More than 1 year ago
Betting will be interesting the next time Union Rags runs. I wonder how much weight the Belmont win will be given? I think the summer and fall races will be interesting from a handicapping standpoint...so I guess that is the consolation in not getting a TC winner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i dont know, maybe angel cordero & johnny v are practiceing voodoo. that sure looked like the sprit of cordero ,riding union rags & the old rooster is not even dead. if you dont know the way to put a horse thru a tight hole. watch that race. that was classic. classic cordero. i have seen him do it for years. " an ole railbird".
Monika Paulino More than 1 year ago
Once again, ole railbird, you got it right. I think that Johnny V and Union Rags aren't getting enough credit for making that hole work for them. Instead, Mike Smith is being criticized for his "mistak." After watching the race replay several times, I just don't see it that way. I remember watching Cordero ride years ago. Johnny is definitely taking up where he left off.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes all I keep hearing about is because of Mike Smith Union Rags won. That's terrible because it will forever take away from rags win, again he will be tagged a winner in some eyes only because Mike drifted off the rail. Calvin Bo-rail dissapointed how many horses sneaking up on the rail but no discredit To his mounts. Anyway, poor rags needs full credit for his win and Paynter will has a great career ahead of him. Another shock might not of even places em.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I meant another jockey might not of even placed him
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Given the facts that IHA couldn't run, it was a great betting race, which I nailed...winning everything in the race from w/p/s,exacta, tri and superfecta, once $1.00 and 4 times 10 cent...just flip floped Paynter (which if he had won would have been alot more profit, but was so happy UR won anyway) n UR, with anyone third and Street Sense fourth, with $4.00 show bet on #4 with using him in 3rd spot x....despite the slow times, it was a great race, so try and forget about "greatness' it wasn;'t there, but for now, and until "Gemologist" starts running again, this appears to be the best at the moment, the summer and fall should be super as "Gem" and some of these other guys develop, I just knew and hoped as I drove by the Wyeth farm in Chadds Ford on my way to Delaware Park early morning that the Union Rags flag would be raised high pointing to the finish line....in the Belmont...and thank goodness for the color "yellow", just about any backer would agree with that, except the victim of color, Mike Smith, as he approaced the finish line....Johhny V was the man and UR was the horse June 9!
kenneth More than 1 year ago
Don't know if this is the slowest Belmont on record, but it must be close. Paynter couldn't hang on despite really slow fractions, and the rest of the field was worse. Not a memorable day, and Union Rags is no Secretariat. If this sounds like sour grapes, f.y.i. I didn't bet the race.
STEPHEN MERCIER More than 1 year ago
2012 Belmont = zzzzz.....zzzzzz....zzzzzz wake me up on the first Sat in May 2013
george More than 1 year ago
The only reason Union Rags won was because J Velesquez whipped him badly cause uUnion Rags not have gas left, and Mr, Macho man Velaquez said earlyer in a drf articule that he gets paid to win, which means to me he will win at anycost , even at cost to fellow jockeys and horses, yes i would tell him to his face in person the samething.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't even notice, did he whip em a lot?
lyn Gumapac More than 1 year ago
Everyone says before the Derby, Oh the horse hasn't had very many races to win it.......But Painter going 1 1/2 miles in a classic, almost wins....What does that say about this colt????
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Well here we are: things are returning to normal (just 33 postings after 24 hours)...not the almost hysterical 400+ in the immediate aftermath of IHA meltdown. And it's apparent that horse racing, which covets social media, should realize that any news, good or bad (per Doug O'Neil etc.) is better than none at all. So a much more Damon Runyonesque/Dick Francis approach is needed, because the vi aims are what sets racing apart from other sports. That having been said, I laughed at D. Wayne Lukas' take on things (knowing what a past-master of b.s. he is).....' Timber country and his temperature....my foot, he'd IHA 'd and D-Wayne pulled the old horseman's excuse....one that didn't even occur to D (honest) O'N.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Don't know what happened here, re ' vi claims '... meant to be ' criminal element '....
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
Always wondered what that thing on D Waynes hip was. Now i know it was Robin Dawson.