06/11/2012 2:14PM

Union Rags has second half to burnish 3-year-old championship credentials

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Tom Keyser
Union Rags, winner of the Belmont Stakes under jockey John Velazquez, will make his next start in either the Jim Dandy or Haskell.

Although Union Rags and I’ll Have Another were the stars of this year’s Triple Crown, both had unfulfilling experiences that will always have their connections, and many others, wondering what might have been.

For Union Rags, winner of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, his traffic-filled trip in the Kentucky Derby precluded any bid for a Triple Crown sweep, something his trainer, Michael Matz, thought he was fully capable of achieving.

For I’ll Have Another, his injury and retirement on the eve of the Belmont denied the winner of the Derby and Preakness a chance to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.

Those two met just once this year, in the Derby. They obviously will not meet again. At this point, I’ll Have Another clearly is the leader among the 3-year-old males for the year-end Eclipse Award. But he cannot add to his r é sum é , leaving him vulnerable to a second-season charge from, among others, Union Rags.

Oh the irony of it all for Matz.

Six years ago, after Barbaro won the Derby to remain unbeaten, he was atop the division. He remained there through the Triple Crown, even after Bernardini won the Preakness, a race marred by the catastrophic breakdown of Barbaro. Bernardini, however, fashioned a strong second-half run – he won the Jim Dandy, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup – to capture the Eclipse Award.

Now, Union Rags will try to do enough to wrest the title from I’ll Have Another. His quest, Matz said, will begin at the end of next month, in either the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 28 or the Haskell at Monmouth on July 29. After that, Union Rags will be aimed at the Travers Stakes on Aug. 25 at Saratoga, Matz said.

“It all depends on how we finish the season,” Matz said. “I’ll Have Another, we raced one time against him. He was very impressive in those two races,” he said, referring to the Derby and Preakness.

Matz added, “We’re not throwing in the towel by any means.”

Matz has always thought quite highly of Union Rags, so he was gratified the colt now has a classic win to his name. He got a Beyer Speed Figure of 96 in the Belmont.

“I thought he needed to run in a Triple Crown race,” Matz said. “I wasn’t sure about the mile and a half. Nobody knows that. He did get a mile and a half good enough. He deserved a chance to do that.”

Matz was frustrated after the Derby, because he thought Union Rags was sitting on a big race. From the time Union Rags had finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall, Matz and assistant Peter Brette mapped out a plan that they believed would allow Union Rags to perform at his best in the Derby and leave him in a position to go for a Triple Crown sweep.

But his troubled trip in the Derby, which followed a less-dramatic but equally disappointing trip in the Florida Derby, caused Matz to change riders. Julien Leparoux – who rode Union Rags three times, including to a victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes – was out, John Velazquez was in.

“I thought the horse had trained well to the Derby,” Matz said. “He trained well all winter. We had a six-month plan, without any bumps, but the one thing I had no control over was the races. Whether it was the horse, the rider, or the trainer, it didn’t work out, so we had to do something.”

Union Rags returned to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland in the wee hours of Saturday night. He will get a brief vacation before pointing to the major summer races.

I’ll Have Another pulled out of Belmont Park on Monday morning, bound for California, where he will be let down from the demands of racing and training while at the Hollywood Park barn of his trainer, Doug O’Neill.

Paynter, who finished second in the Belmont, went back to California on the same flight as I’ll Have Another. He returned from the race minus his left hind shoe, but Jim Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert, said there was no damage to the hoof and theorized that the shoe came off late in the race, or even after the race.

Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat finished second in all three Triple Crown races. Bodemeister was second in the Derby and Preakness, then sat out the Belmont. Bodemeister is being pointed to the Haskell for his next start, while Paynter is likely for the Jim Dandy, Baffert said.

Atigun, who finished third in the Belmont, also is going to be pointed to the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Travers, trainer Ken McPeek said.

Dullahan, who finished seventh in the field of 11 as the Belmont favorite, “came back fine,” trainer Dale Romans said.

“He didn’t seem like he was handling the track,” Romans said. “It was deep and cuppy.”

Romans said Dullahan may go back to the turf in the immediate future. Dullahan also left Belmont Park on Monday, on the same flight with I’ll Have Another and Paynter. The plane was to stop in Louisville to drop off the Kentucky-based horses, Dullahan included, then continue to California.

It’s halftime for the 3-year-olds, with plenty of game left to play.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch

Ron Capece More than 1 year ago
Top tier jockeys usually do not make much difference, but with GREAT horses they do. With a great horse the jock just needs to nudge horse and keep him out of trouble, the horse with heart which UR has will find the way to beat the competition as long as the jock does not take him out of his game or get him into trouble. UR just won a classic distance coming up the rail in a long stretch and someone can say the horse was Lucky? With experience and a good rider, UR will demonstrate throughout the rest of the season just how great a horse he is. Bring on the competition the horse wants to compete as he matures into one of the great ones and it is really a shame the KD took away so quickly in 2 minutes what the fans wait so patiently for, that next TC winner. Let's hope he stays healthy and injury free and if you get a chance to see him compete, don't shortchange yourself by missing the view of a great horse in action.
john grimm More than 1 year ago
D Rutherford you keep saying you won $37,500 on the Belmont but if you wagered $10,000 would the actual winnings not be $27,500
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
What??? $7.50 for $2.00..... so it's actually broken down like this.... $7.50x$5000.00 which equals $37,500.00 because for $1.00 it breaks down to $3.75 for the win times $10,000 which still equals............... plus douglas posted it for proof.
James Turner More than 1 year ago
John is absolutely correct. Doug's winnings (profit) would be $27,500. Odds of 2.75 to 1 equalls $27,500 for a$10,000 wager.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
I cheer the horse for his accomplishments but the people that speak so strongly about something they fail to realize cracks me up. You want to see the real Union Rags, watch his next out.
robert More than 1 year ago
Waiting for his next race. While cheering him on to another victory. This horse can only be stopped by a mugging like he was in the Derby. Once he got out he was closing like a good horse. They were lucky that he didn't get to run till mid-stretch.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Lets watch Mike Matz duck Bodemeister now as the Jim Dandy, Haskell and Travers come around. Bodemeister is going to remind the world just how inferior the rest of the crop is. What Ill Have Another and Bodemeister showed was DOMINANCE and Union Rags only broke through with the both of them out of the picture. At the top of the stretch in the Belmont, horses named Atigun and Paynter were holding Union Rags at bay. I dont doubt for a second that they might have had him beat at 1 and 1/8. Swallow that!
robert More than 1 year ago
I don't think Matz would ever duck Bodemeister when he is ready to run Union Rags. Rags will run past Bodemeister in the stretch just like he did with the Paynter, Hope Bode doesn't have any other horses to worry about that might allow Rags to run past him. Mark you are probably right about the 1 and 1/8 mile because horses know how far they want to go, and Union Rags will not run until that distance has passed. We all know that he can only go a mile and a half. Next time Mark try saying something that makes sense before you say it. Choke on that!
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Well said.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
REALLY? If the award was given to the most worthy horse, I'll Have ANother's name would already be inscribed on it. What HE accomplished was a feat. Union Rags won a race that is IRRELEVANT as far as predicting how good he will be moving forward. The Mile and a half race says NOTHING!!! I want him to win at 1 and 1/8 and 1 and 1/4 before the world starts with the praises. Ruler on Ice won the race last year and hasnt won since. Its an IRRELEVANT race. Its only importance is THE THIRD RACE TO CROWN A TRIPLE CROWN CHAMP. It lost its relevancy when IHA scratched.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Great point and one I've mentioned before. JV whipped UR to a finish by a nose and that was bc MS had to go outside to stop Atigun. The race was just one of the same Belmont runs for New Yorkers. Nothing specia. Paynter and Bodey both ran well. IHA was smarter; UR was luckier.
robert More than 1 year ago
Yeah lucky like a Belmont Stakes Winner!
robert More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately Make the don't give Horse of the Half Year Awards, but you can make one up and inscribe your name on it, You make it sound like Union Rags only runs in mile and a half races, I hate to break it to you but that is just a couple times a year that they run that distance in North America and mostly its on the grass. The Belmont is still a significant race I think the rating were up this year with everyone knowing that IHA would not be running from the day before. O'Neil didn't seem very upset about his horse not running. I am pretty sure that even if IHA was in the race that Rags was going to run anyway and probably beat IHA, So quit with your wait till this and wait till that attitude and see what happens. I know this horse is not afraid of anything out there, they should fear him.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
Belmont Stakes irrelevant? hmm lets think about that for a min.........what was the race that made peoples jaws drop when they seen the big red machine win by whatever he felt like? irrelevant? u must be a novice player!!
Bustedbox2 More than 1 year ago
Union Rags as the Eclipse winner? Please, we've already had a recent travesty of that kind when Rachel Alexandra beat out Zenyatta and her perfect 14-0 lifetime record for Horse of the Year! Maybe the connections of I'll Have Another should have left him in the East to guard against the prevailing anti-Western prejudice.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta only raced five times that years so the 14-14 is not relevant. Look I think Zenyatta is the greatest race mare I have ever seen but Rachel's season was more spectacular.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta's lifetime record got her the HOY in 2010..
robert More than 1 year ago
Absolutely they gave her a yearly award for her lifetime achievement. While all the other horses that year were evaluated on what they did for that particular year. Stupidest thing I have ever seen. Perl you are so right in your comments.
John Bernath More than 1 year ago
I like Union Rags, but he'll have no chance against Bode in the Haskell at 1 1/8th miles. UR will just be getting warmed up when Bode is turning for home, Think his better spot is the Travers......plus we know he likes the track.
Jim More than 1 year ago
Joy I dnt know if you'll see this or not, ur passion for horse racing seems legit, however, if ur gonna debate topics, do some research, and there is no shame in admitting to being wrong, im wrong more than im right. Here is the aerial Derby view, watch the 4 (UR), whole way around,watch Julien try to run the rail, right into a backing up DLL, he basically pulls up UR, and has to make another run, and UR DOES NOT GET passed in stretch, in fact he closes the the fastest 1/16 home in 6.37 compared to WTDW's 6.40.
Jim More than 1 year ago
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv5MpUFSDNQ Aerial Derby View
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
Yet again a horse wins the Belmont scoring less than 100 on the Beyer scale. Underscoring trainers can't train for 12 furlongs ( except turf trainers ) Who beat war emblem? Who beat Smarty Jones? Who beat Charismatic? Did any of them show up again? Not to my knowledge.
Perl More than 1 year ago
The Belmont winners in charismatic's year (Ldk) and smarty's year (Bstone) both validated their wins in the travers. Ldk won several other g1s. Among the horses that beat war emblem include Medaglia d'oro.
MaryAnn Donahue More than 1 year ago
Ldk = Lemon Drop Kid. I had to look it up; I think LDK would make a clearer acronym. Thanks for the info Perl.
PETER More than 1 year ago
Union Rags? Bodemeister, if he stays healthy, runs away from the 3 yo group.