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Sunday, June 10, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 p.m.

Union Rags wins Belmont Stakes by a neck | Horse racing

By The New York Times and The Associated Press

ELMONT, N.Y. — The 144th running of the Belmont Stakes was supposed to be about history, about I'll Have Another's determined assault on a feat achieved by 11 horses. But the colt's Triple Crown quest blew up Friday when a sore tendon derailed the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and his connections decided to send him into potentially lucrative retirement as a stallion prospect.

The remaining horses in the Belmont field managed to put on a good show for the crowd of 85,811 Saturday, as Union Rags won the $1 million race for 3-year-olds by a neck.

Union Rags picked up where I'll Have Another left off, coming from behind to catch a Bob Baffert-trained runner in the stretch of a Triple Crown event.

Jockey John Velazquez guided Union Rags along the rail to edge front-running Paynter.

Mike Smith, who rode 4-1 shot Paynter, took the blame.

"They're not supposed to get through on the fence on me, and he did," Smith said. "I dropped the ball. My fault."

Thus Baffert, Smith and owner Ahmed Zayat finished second in each of the Triple Crown races this year, as Bodemeister was runner-up behind I'll Have Another twice.

"Is there a Triple Crown for seconds?" Baffert said. "I really felt like I was going to win the Belmont. It was snatched away again."

Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, ran 1 ½ miles in 2 minutes, 30.42 seconds. The colt paid $7.50 to win as the second wagering choice in the field of 11.

Atigun, a 20-1 shot, finished third.

Street Life, whose owners include Dan Zucker of Seattle, was fourth at 9-1 odds. Dullahan, favored at 5-2, was a dull seventh.

Union Rags lost at 2-5 odds in the March 31 Florida Derby and was seventh in the Kentucky Derby after jockey Julien Leparoux again got the colt stuck in traffic. Bad rides or trouble-prone colt was the debate among horseplayers.

Matz replaced Leparoux with Velazquez, who didn't let the trainer open his mouth to offer instructions in the paddock Saturday before declaring his plan.

"Break good, get in a rhythm and go from there," Velazquez said.

Velazquez, who will enter racing's Hall of Fame in August, has won the Belmont twice in 16 attempts; he guided filly Rags to Riches to victory in 2007.

Matz said, "We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential. He had trouble in his second race and his third race (this year). I do really think that this horse, when he has a clean trip and can show himself, is one of the best 3-year-olds in this crop.

"Whether he could have done something against I'll Have Another, I don't know, but it sure would have been fun to see."

Notes

• I'll Have Another was honored in a ceremony in the winner's circle before the Belmont. The colt originally was to lead the post parade, but the plan changed early Saturday after concerns he might become too agitated on the track.

• The crowd was sixth largest in track history and the biggest turnout for a Belmont Stakes without a Triple Crown on the line.

Fooling the public
Betting favorites have had a tough time lately in the Belmont Stakes, finishing no better than third in the last five years.
Year Favorite Finish
2012 Dullahan 7th
2011 Animal Kingdom 6th
2010 Ice Box 9th
2009 Mine That Bird 3rd
2008 Big Brown DNF*
* Did not finish

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