In a finish that was reminiscent of I'll Have Another's victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, Union Rags won the 2012 Belmont Stakes. In doing so, he proved to the horse racing world that we didn't need the Triple Crown hopeful to make for an exciting race.
Michael Matz's horse pulled from the middle of the pack to Bob Baffert's Paynter, who was ahead of the field for nearly the entire race. Paynter's jockey, Mike Smith, met the same end that he had in the previous two Triple Crown races, as he lost by a nose after giving up the lead late for a third straight race.
Ken McPeek's Atigun finished third in a valiant effort in a race in which he wasn't expected to compete with the top horses in the field.
Once again, it wasn't Smith or his horse who lost the race, it was the opponent that won it.
John Velazquez got Union Rags off to a near-perfect start, as the pair entered the first turn right where they wanted to be, in the middle of the pack. Velazquez was able to sneak his horse past Paynter's left on the rail, capitalizing on a perfect opportunity created when Smith drifted too far inside.
Many questioned the horse's ability to run the full 1.5-mile track, but Velazquez and his colt did just what I'll Have Another did in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. They proved their doubters wrong.
The result of this race just goes to show you that we didn't need I'll Have Another in the field for the 2012 Belmont Stakes to be one for the ages. It shows that the horses are interchangeable and that horse racing fans will be pleased with any kind of riveting finish. The Belmont had one of those exhilarating finishes that helped people forget about I'll Have Another's absence for a few minutes.
Everybody thought this race would be a stinker without the Triple Crown favorite on the track, but it was quite the opposite. Once again, we were assured that no matter what the storylines are leading up to the race, the performance of the horses is what carries the most weight.
Union Rags painted his own picture, becoming one of the favorites to win after I'll Have Another went down. By losing one storyline, we gained another.
Union Rags finally lived up to his potential after taking the Preakness Stakes off to rest up for the Belmont. He showed that he does indeed possess the elite closing speed that so many doubted when he let them down at Churchill Downs.
Here's a table complete with the top three finishers and the payouts.
|1. Union Rags ||7.50||4.20||3.40|
|3. Atigun ||10.60|