After getting stuck in traffic during the Kentucky Derby, Union Rags finished a disappointing seventh. Trainer Michael Matz opted to hold his horse out of the Preakness for a shot at the Belmont. That strategy worked perfectly as the three-year-old bay colt closed down the stretch well and snuck past Bob Baffert's Paynter at the line.
Sadly the win feels a little incomplete, as Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another was forced out of the Belmont with tendinitis in his left front leg. That said, Union Rags made an incredible late push and certainly showed why so many believed he would win the Kentucky Derby during the pre-race build up.
John Velazquez did a great job as jockey after taking over for Julien Leparoux. Leparoux was replaced after the Kentucky Derby mishap, when Union Rags was bumped at the start by Dullahan and then got trapped on the inside for most of the run.
The move paid off as Velazquez rode a perfect race, holding the horse back until they turned for home. He found a sliver of daylight along the rail and snuck inside Paynter for the stretch run.
Matz claimed he believed Union Rags had Triple Crown potential but he had trouble in a few races. On Saturday he showed what he could do when he got a clean run.
It was a spectacular race and would have been even more memorable had I'll Have Another taken part in it. But even so, Union Rags showed himself to be a special horse, and certainly one of the best of this crop.