ELMONT, N.Y., June 9, 2012 — Once the anticipated winner had been scratched, most betters and writers turned instantly to the Kentucky-bred horse raised in Virginia, Union Rags, and he did not disappoint, squeezing by Paynter on the rail to win by a neck. Union Rags paid $7.50 on a $2 bet.
It was the Triple Crown’s final jewel race that had so many backstories, they almost overran the actual race.
Baffert’s Three-peat in Second Place
The second place horse, Paynter, ridden by Mike Smith, provided trainer Bob Baffert with a three-peat: his horses finished second place in all three Triple Crown races, which must be a personal record of some type in the annals of horse racing. He had led the race until the very end, giving Union Rags something to aim for, when Mike Smith guided Rags through on the rail.
Atigun, a little-rated horse who went off at 30-1, trained by Ken McPeek and ridden by Julien Leparoux, decided to turn it into a real horse race, and managed a respectable third place finish for his efforts.
A beautiful day on Long Island, New York with clouds in the sky and one brief tiny shower, it was perfect for racing. The crowd was a little slimmer than for past Belmont Stakes races with only 85,100 turning out for the big event, but they were as loud as ever.
“I Wanted Him BACK”
Union Rags’ victorious owner Phyllis Mills Wyeth has a backstory all her own. Born and raised with horses, an athlete in several sports, she was injured in an auto accident at 21. Horses have been her passion, and she bred a horse inherited from her mother, Union Dixie to Tempo, resulting in the rangy bay colt, Union Rags.
On the advice of her accountant, however, she gave in and sold the colt at the Saratoga sales in 2010 for $145,000. An old sage once said, “A woman changed against her will is of the same opinion still,” and it was true of Mrs. Wyeth as well, who had not wanted to sell the horse.
The more she thought about Union Rags, the more she wanted him back and a year later she bought the yearling for the increased price of $390,000. From there the colt went to their Virginia property, Chadds Ford near Point Lookout, a spot known as being a former Civil War Union prisoner of war camp, and to trainer Michael Matz. She knew and respected Michael Matz, who had been the trainer of Barbaro. And the rest is now racing history.
Jockey John Velazquez had a great trip on Union Rags, calling on him at the right time while letting Paynter lead the way for most of the race.
Dullahan Disappoints Again
Dullahan, the big guy with the weird name (which means a headless Celtic seelie fairy that carries his head under his arm and is only stopped by the sight of gold), ended up at the back of the pack, some seven lengths off any of the leaders. He had finished third in the Kentucky Derby, and like several others, did not run in the Preakness. None of the others in the eleven-horse field seemed particularly notable today.
And the thousand pound elephant in the racetrack room was I’ll Have Another, scratched yesterday due to tendonitis in his left front leg. Rather than go through an extensive healing and rehabilitation period, Another’s retirement was announced at the same time. He was brought out into the paddock area on display briefly and was formally toasted by the attendees into retirement, where it is expected his breeding services will probably go into at least six figures for a stud appointment.
“Detention Barn” Factor
The late addition of a “detention barn” at the track seemed to upset some of the horses, who were switched from an area they had settled into, to a different one. Horses, like other animals and many humans, do have affinities for certain areas, and changing them that close to a major race would seem to be an additional stressor on basically high strung animals.
The accusations against I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, appear to be at the heart of the “detention barn” idea. It seems to be no secret that he is less than admired by many of the other trainers. It was obvious that O’Neill was being targeted when the announcement of the “detention barn” was explained by saying that it was to “ensure that I’ll Have Another’s bid to sweep the series is contested…without illegal drugs.” Thus, to carry on a quasi-vendetta against one trainer, the emotions and temperament against 11 other horses was compromised, all for naught.
And so with no Triple Crown Winner this year, the aspirations of many have gone down the tubes. In a country with economy problems and unemployment staggering, it seemed strange that a winner of all three major horse races could somehow be the shining star that many hoped for.
To place all of that weight on the shoulders of even I’ll Have Another, was just too much for a horse and the world of racing at large, and the country will just have to get by without a Triple Crown winner until next year. At least Belmont Stakes was a good, clean, well-run race with no one was hurt and the sun will come up tomorrow in the city of the white carnations.
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