Belmont Stakes 2012: Union Rags Has No Shot at Stopping I'll Have Another
Michael Matz is crazy if he thinks Union Rags is going to be able to challenge I'll Have Another at the Belmont Stakes.
It's like we're back at the Kentucky Derby again, and Union Rags—who entered the race right behind Bodemeister as the second-favorite—was all anyone could talk about. If there was one horse that could beat the speed-freak Bodemeister, it was this one.
Even after he drew Gate No. 4, the hype around Union Rags was still deafening, mostly because of Matz, who had famously trained Barbaro in 2006 and seemed primed for another win at Churchill Downs. Not only did Barbaro win in 2006, but he won by six-and-a-half lengths. Matz could work magic.
Facing a similarly wide-open field, Union Rags seemed like a great pick to win. And then, of course, he finished seventh.
Now, after skipping the Preakness, Matz believes his horse is going to be the one who comes in between I'll Have Another and a shot at the Triple Crown. But what is different about this race?
For one thing, even if Union Rags draws a more favorable post position, it shouldn't hurt I'll Have Another. This is a horse who hangs back early, seeks out a good position and then breaks late, especially in long races. The Belmont, at 1.5 miles, is the longest of the three Triple Crown races. Plus, you might remember that I'll Have Another recently became the first horse to ever win the Derby after starting at the unenviable Gate No. 19.
It actually might do I'll Have Another some good to have another horse in the field who really thinks he has a shot of winning. One of the reasons I'll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez were so successful in the Derby and in the Preakness was because they deferred to Bodemeister when it came to setting the pace, waited for him to tire and then surged to the finish line. If Union Rags sets the pace at the Belmont, I'll Have Another will be able to employ a similar strategy.
Back before the Derby, Union Rags was the most hyped horse not named Bodemeister, but what has he done, really? He was the favorite at the Florida Derby, and he choked there. He choked at the Kentucky Derby. Union Rags may have won a race by five lengths at this track last October, but against what competition?
Matz keeps insisting that he hasn't had an opportunity to really show his stuff, and he's even sought out a new jockey for the Belmont in the hopes that it will change the tide for this underachieving horse.
But Union Rags needs a lot more than luck to beat I'll Have Another. The more time that goes by, the more it becomes clear that this horse just can't run with the big names.
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