Union Rags Squeezes Through for GI Belmont S. Victory
RAIL-SKIMMING 'RAGS' UP IN BELMONT
It has been something of a tumultuous sophomore season thus far for Chadds Ford Stable's Union Rags (Dixie Union), but nothing 150 seconds and some change couldn't undo. Given a perfect ground-saving ride by John Velazquez, the handsome bay colt needed every inch of the stretch, but fought through an opening inside pacesetting Paynter (Awesome Again) for a neck victory in the GI Belmont S.
Saturday, Belmont Park
BELMONT S.-GI, $1,000,000, BEL, 6-9, 3yo, 1 1/2m, 2:30 2/5, ft.
1--UNION RAGS, 126, c, 3, by Dixie Union
1st Dam: Tempo, by Gone West
2nd Dam: Terpsichorist, by Nijinsky II
3rd Dam: *Glad Rags II, by High Hat
($145,000 yrl '10 FTSAUG; $390,000 2yo '11 FTFFEB). O-Chadds Ford Stable; B-Phyllis M Wyeth (KY); T-Michael R Matz; J-John R Velazquez; $600,000. Lifetime Record: 8-5-1-1, $1,798,800. *Full to Geefour (Dixie Union), SP, $159,092. Werk Nick Rating: A+. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2--Paynter, 126, c, 3, Awesome Again--Tizso, by Cee's Tizzy. ($325,000 yrl '10 KEESEP). O-Zayat Stables LLC; B-Diamond A Racing Corp (KY); T-Bob Baffert; $200,000.
3--Atigun, 126, c, 3, Istan--Rimini Road, by Dynaformer. ($42,000 yrl '10 KEESEP). O-Shortleaf Stable Inc; B-Brereton C Jones (KY); T-Kenneth G McPeek; $110,000.
Margins: NK, 1 3/4, 5HF. Odds: 2.75, 4.30, 20.50.
Also Ran: Street Life, Five Sixteen, Unstoppable U, Dullahan, My Adonis, Ravelo's Boy, Optimizer, Guyana Star Dweej. Scratched: I'll Have Another.
Coming Full Circle...
Fourteen months after their Big Brown (Boundary) was eased in the Belmont S., IEAH Stables signed the ticket on the Dixie Union colt out of Tempo (Gone West) for $145,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale in the summer of 2010. They offered the bay at the same auction house's Florida Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, and he attracted the eye of many a horse identifier, including his breeder, who either had seller's remorse or just wanted a Classic-looking racehorse. Phyllis Wyeth signed the winning ticket on the horse who would become Union Rags at $390,000 and soon turned him over to Michael Matz, who conditioned Barbaro (Dynaformer) to a dominating victory in the 2006 GI Kentucky Derby. And her re-acquisition did little to disappoint early on.
Top of the Crop...
Union Rags rallied from seventh of nine to take his five-furlong debut over the Delaware main track July 12 before decimating the field by 7 1/4 lengths in a sloppy renewal of the GII Saratoga Special S. at Saratoga Aug. 15. Union Rags skipped the GI Three Chimneys Hopeful S. in September in favor of the GI Champagne S. the following month. Sent off the 6-5 chalk that afternoon, Union Rags was patiently ridden and was snookered at a crucial stage for about a quarter of a mile, but streaked away when the daylight came to hand Alpha (Bernardini) a 5 1/4-length defeat. Favored to complete an undefeated campaign in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he sat a disastrous four-wide trip as Hansen (Tapit) set the pace inside. He couldn't quite get to the pacesetter and settled for second, his Eclipse dreams dashed. He began 2012 with obviously high expectations and suggested he'd be the divisional heavy with an effortless four-length score in the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S. Feb. 26. A somewhat disappointing third following a questionable ride in the GI Florida Derby Mar. 31, Union Rags was bounced around at the start of the May 5 GI Kentucky Derby, was taken up nearing the half-mile pole and did exceeding well to finish seventh, 7 1/2 lengths behind I'll Have Another (Flower Alley). Would there be a 'Rags-to-riches' story in the Belmont?
Hoping for a Cleaner Trip...
In an effort to change their luck, connections made a switch from Julien Leparoux to John Velazquez, who won his first Belmont astride the filly Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy) in 2007. Unmolested at the break this time around, Union Rags drifted back to about midfield as upstart and third wagering choice Paynter (Awesome Again) was ridden for speed by Mike Smith, already second aboard Bodemeister (Empire Maker) in the Derby and GI Preakness S. Following an opening quarter mile in a fairly quick :23.72, Paynter was allowed to cover an internal half-mile in :51 as positions remained largely unchanged with six furlongs still ahead of them. Velazquez took a look behind him shortly thereafter and asked Union Rags to get just a touch closer to Paynter, who picked up the tempo a bit and covered the mile in 1:38.85. Atigun (Istan) and Leparoux moved in unison with Union Rags, though were forced to go more overland, but loomed a serious threat four wide at the quarter pole. Paynter, looking to give Ahmed Zayat his first Classic victory after several agonizing defeats, hit the eighth pole still going well, but Smith had vacated the fence and left an inviting opening for Union Rags and Velazquez to go through, if good enough. And that he proved, as he dug in tenaciously and grabbed the long-time leader in the final 40 yards for a hard-earned success. "We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential," a clearly relieved Matz commented. "When we trained him, we gave him four races as a 2-year-old and gave him a rest and had a good plan. He never missed a beat. His first race couldn't have beenany easier. He had trouble in his second race and his third race. 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." Click for the brisnet.com chart, the brisnet.com PPs, the free brisnet.com catalogue-style pedigree or the video, sponsored by Taylor Made Sales.
Pioneerofthe Nile, Nehro, Bodemeister and now Paynter. All have carried the silks of Zayat Stables to runner-up finishes--most of the excrutiating variety--in Classics over the last few years. "Heartbreaking defeat. A heartbreaking defeat," said Zayat, whose Justin Phillip (First Samurai) was run down late in the GII True North H. earlier on the program. "He ran his guts out. It's just his fourth race. What do they call that race, the 'Test of the Champion?' To go a mile and a half the way he did, in only his fourth race, I am very lucky to have him. I'm very disappointed we opened the rail for [Union Rags]."
Dullahan Struggles at Big Sandy...
Dullahan (Even the Score), third in the GI Kentucky Derby and the post-time favorite for the Belmont S., raced in the latter half of the field early on and never really kicked it in, finishing seventh. "I don't think he really liked the track today," commented jockey Javier Castellano, who was in the irons for the first time. "He's the type of horse who likes the turf or Polytrack more. The track was a little deep today and he kind of struggled a little bit." Added trainer Dale Romans, The race unfolded like it looked on paper to me. Paynter ran a big race, they all ran big, Union Rags ran big; we just didn't have a finishing kick. This is a good horse, a very good horse. I was sure he was going to run a really big one. It's disappointing."