06/20/2012 12:38PM

Jerardi: 2012 Triple Crown had a little bit of everything

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Michael Amoruso
Union Rags (right) runs down Paynter to win the Belmont Stakes.

This Triple Crown had everything but a Triple Crown – great finishes, politics, terrible starts, confused bureaucrats, suspicion, assumptions, jockey changes, an unknown jockey who ended up at the top of the Empire State Building, three weeks of anticipation, and a final-hours scratch that changed everything.

The races themselves were great theater, with enough good and bad luck to give everybody something to consider as they evaluated what they saw.

The back stories never ended. Opinions about some of the participants hardened quickly. Occasionally, facts were even considered.

It was absolutely fascinating from beginning to end, which, for me, came as I was standing right behind Phyllis Wyeth as her horse of a lifetime came through that hole on the rail at Belmont Park. More than anything, this is a sport of emotion. You could feel what Union Rags meant to his owner in those final yards.

I do not have an answer to the I’ll Have Another question. If he could have duplicated his Preakness form, he very likely would have won the Belmont Stakes. But I have no idea if that was the horse we were going to see – under the best of circumstances.

I do have the answer to the Union Rags question. If the colt had been in the top five coming out of the first turn of the Kentucky Derby (which was the plan), he would have been right there at the finish. Would he have won? We will never know. Obviously, he would have needed a career-best Beyer Speed Figure. I believe it would have been there, and he would have run just as trainer Michael Matz expected him to run.

Union Rags does not get tired. He does not get passed in the stretch. He will need to get bigger Beyers. And he will now have the summer and fall to prove himself.

The Triple Crown races are run over 6,930 yards. By my count, Bob Baffert-trained horses led 6,780 of those yards and won none of them. That is a record that won’t be broken.

Neither will the one Wayne Lukas set. Only one horse ran in all three races. Optimizer’s odds kept going down (due in part to field size and in part to insanity) as his finishes kept getting worse. The colt was 42-1 in the Derby and was beaten 12 lengths. He was 23-1 in the Preakness and beaten by 15 1/2 lengths. He was so good in the first two races, he was bet down to 14-1 in the Belmont, where he was beaten by 30 3/4 lengths.

I did not go back through all the charts, but I have to wonder if a horse that ran in all three races ever got beat by a combined 58 1/4 lengths. Let’s call it a modern record and assume it won’t be topped.

Speaking of Lukas, when he trashed recent Derby-winning trainers Doug O’Neill, Richard Dutrow Jr., and Chip Woolley before the Preakness, did he forget his history? Did he not remember Union City and Prince of Thieves, two of his 3-year-olds that did not survive their 3-year-old seasons?

And speaking of odds, one of the recent mysteries of the Triple Crown is how these races get bet in the win pools, with the Belmont Stakes being the most recent example.

In an 11-horse field, no horse was 30-1. Guyana Star Dweej had won a single race and never gotten a Beyer higher than 84. He was 23-1. That was strange. Five Sixteen was stranger. He also had won one race. His best Beyer was a 78. He was 19-1.

If I could set up a stand and accept bets on all the no hopers in these Triple Crown races, this really would be an easy game. Well, maybe not. No offense to Woolley, but I certainly would have set up a stand on Mine That Bird. That would not have ended well.

Now that the Triple Crown has ended, I noticed there are other horses racing. Did you see Frankel at Royal Ascot?

Has any human ever been more flattered by his namesake? I spent enough time with Bobby Frankel to know he would love this colt. Horses do not win major European Group 1 races by 11 lengths. Horses do not run as fast as Frankel was running at the end of races.

I watched Frankel on my laptop on Preakness morning. That was really good. This was ridiculous.

If Black Caviar wins again Saturday, shouldn’t some enterprising promoter put up a crazy amount of money and have them meet somewhere at seven furlongs.

Failing that, how about Black Caviar down the hill and Frankel in the Mile at the Breeders’ Cup? I get that isn’t going to happen, but, after this wonderful Triple Crown season, I find myself thinking just about anything is possible – except a Triple Crown, of course.

Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
"What ifs" aside, IHA is due the eclipse award. Period.
Albert More than 1 year ago
You want a reference point for Union Rags' Belmont win? Take Secretariat out of his Belmont with a last minute scratch and the winner is Twice a Prince in roughly the same time that Union Rags ran. So that makes Union Rags the Twice a Prince of his time. (snarky comment)
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
NO.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really don't like folks equating the Triple Crown what-ifs of I'll Have Another with the what-ifs of Union Rags. First, I'll Have Another won 2 of the 3 classics, while Union Rags took 1. Union Rags had his shot in the Kentucky Derby and he lost. Valid excuses or not, he was in the field and didn't hit the board. Then, because Union Rags lost the Derby, Matz had the LUXURY to choose which of the other 2 races to run in. Of course, Matz could have run Union Rags in all 3, there was nothing stopping him. But he didn't. Instead he decided to give the colt 5 weeks rest and point for the Belmont. We have no idea how Union Rags would have handled the quick turnaround to the Preakness, and we certainly can't assume that had he run in the Preakness he would have run as well in the Belmont as he actually did off 5 weeks rest. Baffert with Bodemeister had the same luxury, getting to pick one of the remaining two races. The connections of I'll Have Another didn't have the luxury to choose. Because of the social pressures of the Triple Crown, once I'll Have Another won the Derby it was a formality that he would be heading to Baltimore. And then when he won the Preakness, there was really no option but to head to Belmont 3 weeks later. If there was no such thing as the Triple Crown, would trainers actually run a horse back at a classic distance two weeks after running 10 furlongs, and then throw in a 3rd race, at 12 furlongs no less, a total of 5 weeks after the first race? Not a chance. The irony about winning the Derby is that trainers are forced into a scenario they despise, that being a schedule over which they have no control. Trainers increasingly seek to micro-manage a horse's schedule and training, and often choose works over prep races. After winning the Derby, a trainer loses this control. Instead of getting to see how the horse responds, taking time to evaluate, and then pointing for a long-range objective, they are left with basically one option, get the horse ready to run back in 2 weeks. Then,ifi the horse wins the Preakness as well, they have to push on forward to the Belmont. I'll Have Another won the Derby, Union Rags lost. However, by losing, the connections of Union Rags could sit back and choose which of the two remaining races would best fit their horse, both in terms of distance and track preference, but also as it concerns the need for rest. For I'll Have Another, there really was little option other than to return 2 weeks later and run in the Preakness. And the horse was up to this task, winning with what is easily the performance of the year so far by a 3 year old. The Triple Crown then demanded I'll Have Another come back 3 weeks later for the longest of the 3 races. I'll Have Another made it 2 weeks and 5 days before his body failed him. In the end, he wasn't worthy of being ranked alongside the Triple Crown champions. But the horse and his connections tried; they pursued it as long as they could. The same was not true of Union Rags. He failed in the first leg, jumped off the trail for the 2nd leg, and then at his convenience re-entered the fray for the final leg. Or to look at it another way, there is basically one what-if surrounding I'll Have Another as it concerns his chances at the Triple Crown- what if he had run in the Belmont, would he have won? To get Union Rags the Triple Crown, there are 3 what-ifs. 1) What if Union Rags didn't have trouble in the Derby, would he have won? 2)What if Union Rags had won the Derby, how would he have done running back in 2 weeks against Bodemeister and/or I'll Have Another when they were running their A-games? 3) What if Union Rags was able to win the Derby and Preakness, would he have run as well in the Belmont as he did with 5 weeks rest after skipping the Preakness? I'll Have Another was one day away from getting the chance to run for the Crown, with 2 races to his name. In contrast, the logical jumps to get Rags the Crown require some serious mental gymnastics.
Willian J. Brune More than 1 year ago
A very erudite article. Having said that, however, there are two words, when put together, should be eliminated from the English language: "what if." A handicapper can "what if" to any race. A 1-5 favorite in a $5,000 claimer who runs second can be "what if'd."
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Union Rags is a good horse. With a classic win, he should be either ranked as #2 or maybe #3 behind Bodemeister among the 3 year olds. But the battle for the Eclipse is basically where the NBA Finals are; it isn't officially over, but if history means anything we know how it's going to end. Union Rags, or Bodemeister for that matter, would have to win the BC Classic, Travers, and then some other race(whether the Jim Dandy, Haskell, or Jockey Club Gold Cup) to overtake I'll Have Another. IHA has two classics, another grade 1, and a grade 2 for good measure. Given he defeated the other leading contenders at least once head-to-head, the others will need to either win one more grade 1 race than him(a total of 4) or win 3 with one having to be the Classic; a Jim Dandy/Haskell-Travers-Jockey Club Gold Cup triple will not be enough.
chuck More than 1 year ago
Absolutely correct analysis!!!
owenjamesja More than 1 year ago
Union Rags beat a poor field in the Belmont. I hope he meets Bodemeister in the Fall and you will see who's the second best to IHA. Pity the latter developed tendon problems. He would have blown away this mediocre field in the Belmont.
owenjamesja More than 1 year ago
I would love to hear what Andy Beyer says about Frankel. British commentators keep calling him the best in the world. For me until he crosses the Pond and beats an international field such as obtains in the Breeders Cup mile or Classic, he is just a very good British horse - possibly one of the best. However for me at this time I cannot tag him the World's best! Andy Beyer, do you agree? I hate these superlatives without proof.
Ryan Jones More than 1 year ago
owen, crossing the pond to run in the breeders cup would be foolish, and the equivalent of a step down or two in class. Group 3 types come over here and steal the money in those races (and many other on the US calendar). He's not coming to the US. Too much to lose, absolutely nothing to gain.
chuck More than 1 year ago
What does it matter what Andy Beyer thinks? Who he proclaims as the best is just another opinion. One of many.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Frankel is basically a great miler, that is it.
victor More than 1 year ago
If IHA even drops 7 or eight beyer points he still wins the belmont. If he ran like his other two TC races he wins by 10. Why even mention UR. He skips the Preakness to then get a dream trip to win the Belmont on Mike smiths not protecting the rail.
Monika Paulino More than 1 year ago
Still not sure why a Belmont winner is getting so little respect. To quote a well known racing writer, He won - get over it. And he won impressively. The Beyer for the Belmont is misleading, since UR was nowhere near the slow-running pace setter. Look at his time in the final furlong. Glad that someone is finally calling Lukas out. He has a very poor reputation at the track for the way he treats both people and the horses under his care. What kind of trainer would run a horse like Optimizer in all three Triple Crown races?
Jerry More than 1 year ago
lucas is having a hard time letting go......brett favre had a hard time letting go ....heckm i getting old and im having trouble adjusting to it, so i ll have to ncut those guys some slack..they did give us a few memories....
Jerry More than 1 year ago
p.s. union rags will relish running with a much faster pace...will enjoy seeingn that happen......
R. Carlos Nanez More than 1 year ago
I think Lukas age has a lot to do with the way he handle the horses in his care. He live in his past era with all these well breed horses at his disposition, he could effort to make mistakes an they still run well because they had so much class even a milkman could train those horses, but he thought of himself as a genius instead of given the credit to the horses an the wealthy owners he had.Now he fail to see the reality of what is he's doing with those poor beast.
Scott K More than 1 year ago
Why do people erroneously believe that Union Rags should have been in the top five out of the gate in Kentucky? Just because his trainer wanted him to be 3rd early - should we all take that as gospel? The bottom line is that Union Rags has NEVER displayed the kind of early foot that would put him on the heels of Bodiemeister or Trinniberg early in the Derby - he rallied from well back to win his 2yo races and his 3 yo starts affirm that he is a closer, not a speed type. Union Rags apologists can keep thinking he might have won the Derby with a better break, but let's not forget that in his first start this year, the 2nd place finisher was a Dale Romans horse that had NEVER won on the dirt. In the Florida Derby, bad ride or no, he still fell short of Reveron, a clearly inferior horse. Give him credit for winning the Belmont without having to face the horse who will invariably be the 3 yo champ, I'll Have Another, but Union Rags still has much to prove! I picked Union Rags to win the Belmont, and bet on him to do so, so I have no agenda against the horse - it's just that in his case the reputation has tended to exceed the actual talent - in that sense, he reminds me of Uncle Mo, although he clearly can run farther than Mo ever did!
Chris Szabo More than 1 year ago
Scott, that was a great post. Union Rags may go on to impress and entertain many people for years to come, but so far he's been overhyped all winter and spring. that he won the Belmont came as no surprise, but there's little doubt he would've finished several lengths behind I'll Have Another if that one had run, and shown up with any of his usual efforts. Simply look through their Beyer numbers and compare.
Jerry More than 1 year ago
chris.... whyat is the difference between little doubt and... no doubt ..no matter, the outcome,the belmont would have been a much better race with iha in the line up...
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
I thought the Belmont was a fabulous race. If I'll have another ran It wouldn't have been close. I don't know why people keep comparing Rags to IHA theres no comparison. IHA had real stalking speed, and closing punch. Rags either has stalking speed and no punch, or closing punch and no speed. He's a grinder. I'll give him credit for winning the Belmont, but come on now. I'd compare him to creative cause, and look what happened to cause in the preakness. Rags would've met the same fate if matz didn't skip the race in favor of his favorite strip.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
please go watch the saratoga special where union rags wired trinniberg and won.. get facts straight before you post.... he will run down bode or paynter.... trust me on this
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
he has plenty of early speed..... tired of hearing how slow people think he is... why? because he was trained to rate and get a distance of ground instead of going to the front like a speed crazed colt who fizzles out in the final yards.... these blogs are just getting so tiresome.... at least you give the colt credit for the belmont.... but don't judge his progression or speed by his last few runs...
Joe Tartaglia More than 1 year ago
I agree. I'm not a big UR fan, but I do think he's going to relish faster paces. I want to see him in the Haskell, but that track always suits speed well, so if Bode runs, he will be tough to beat. It would be a great re-match. The one thing I really don't like about UR is that I think he seems to find trouble in his races.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Joe, I think most of his trouble was the human anchor...
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
Thomas thats old news, One turn sprint, beating Trininberg and One turn mile in the champaigne beating Alpha, who both were nowhere in the Derby. Bode faced creative cause who was just as good probably better than rags going into the Derby, and showed he was the real deal in the Ark Derby and thereafter. I would love to see Rags run in the haskell but he doen't want any part of Bode..
Larry Rudolph More than 1 year ago
Bravo
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Union Rags : has been my colt ever since his MSW win last year . I have spent many days - hours following this colt - traveling around the country . I still am on his side - though I am 100% convinced already that "Ill Have Another" already has the honors all wrapped up . No other colt will be picture perfect from here on out thru Dec , so its very much a lock . I can deal with that . There are afew great races ahead . Will still be exciting to watch . There is ONLY one way Bodemeister or Union Rags would even have a "Prayer" in the voting department : and that is if they both "Faced Off" with each-other from here on out , One winning the remaining races . Then , head-lines would start to burst - but Ill Have Another - will have too much pull in the votes - politics ! Yes , this Triple Crown season sure had its Ups n downs ....................... Its just ashame that things happen in the wrorst way - and ya just know each year - when will it happen - tick - tock
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Don't stiff him now... This Colt wins out!
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
Hi doug I had Rags in the Juvenile, when he ran into a razor sharp Hansen, and Watched him have trouble reelin in Take Charge Indy. Barely beat Paynter. This guy at this stage of the game isn't reelin in a Game on Dude. Next year he'll continue his improvement. He'll be a nice 4 year old. don't believe he'll do the unthinkable and oust IHA for 3 year old honors.