John Velazquez: Union Rags's Jockey Wasn't the Difference in Belmont Stakes

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John Velazquez: Union Rags's Jockey Wasn't the Difference in Belmont Stakes
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Union Rags's trainer, Mike Matz, switched jockeys before the Belmont Stakes and although that change was followed by a Union Rags victory, John Velazquez was not the difference-maker in the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Velazquez replaced Julien Leparoux, the jockey who rode Union Rags in the Kentucky Derby. But looking closely at the Derby, it wasn't exactly Leparoux's fault for the seventh-place finish.

Union Rags had good positioning from the beginning, but the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs was difficult in itself to overcome.

Instead of being able to show his speed, Union Rags was stuck in the middle of the pack and unable to make his move. There was simply nothing Leparoux could do to change his fortunes.

Clearly after watching this horse at the Belmont, he is much better than what he showed at the Derby.

At the Belmont, Union Rags's new jockey was very fortunate to get the space he needed to make his move. Pinned against the rail, Union Rags received the greatest gift a horse and jockey can ever receive.

Apparently unable to see Union Rags following close behind, Paynter, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by jockey Mike Smith, gave Velazquez just enough space to break free from the pack and make a memorable stretch run that helped seal the victory for Matz's horse.

Granted, Velazquez did run a solid race, but it wasn't anything spectacular as some would have you believe. Smith's blunder in allowing Velazquez and Union Rags out of the inside was what propelled the pair to the front.

Had Leparoux been given the same gift at the Kentucky Derby, Union Rags would have certainly had enough gas in the tank to make a late run and challenge both I'll Have Another and Bodemeister down the stretch.

It might seem like too much to be a coincidence that the changing of the jockey was followed by a Union Rags win, but it was just that, a coincidence. Leparoux and Union Rags were victims of circumstance, not a poorly run race.

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