Post time co-favorite Union Rags got an excellent ride from new jockey John Velasquez to catch Bob Baffert trained Paynter at the wire and take the victory in a hotly contested Belmont Stakes. Paynter held on to finish second with Atigun finishing third.
As expected, Paynter immediately went to the front and set the pace throughout the race. Baffert’s colt led throughout the Belmont until caught by Union Rags in the final 100 yards. Paynter ran a blistering first 1/4 mile but slowed to a more reasonable pace by the 1/2 mile mark. He never pulled away from the pack too far but at the same time was never seriously challenged for the lead in the early going.
Meanwhile, Union Rags got a great jump out of the gate and cruised along the rail throughout. Getting an excellent trip from jockey John Velasquez, Union Rags found an opening on the inside right around the 3/4 pole and moved into the lead pack of horses. At this point, it was just a matter of letting the horse’s speed take over and Union Rags was able to run down a fading Paynter at the wire to take the victory. The win also gave a resounding answer to questions about his endurance as he looked to have no trouble whatsoever with the 1 1/2 mile distance.
The victory validated the jockey change that Union Rags’ connections made after a disappointing 7th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Union Rags got a terrible trip in the Derby, so trainer Michael Matz replaced Julian Leparoux with John Velasquez. That proved to be the winning move and Velasquez received much of the credit for the late race move off the rail and into the lead pack.
Union Rags received strong support from the betting public and by post time was a 5-2 co-favorite along with Dullahan, though Dullahan received marginally more betting dollars. Paynter went off as a 4-1 choice as the second favorite. Third place finishing Atigun was a 20-1 post time choice. Union Rags paid $7.50 to win, $4.20 to place and $3.40 to show. Paynter paid $5.10 and $3.90 with Atigun returning $10.60 to show. The 3-9 Exacta paid $15.70, the 3-9-4 Trifecta paid $248.00 and the 3-9-4-1 Superfecta paid $953 with Street Life finishing 4th.
The big disappointment in the race was Dullahan, who needed a brisk pace to be a contender. Once the pace slowed at the 1/4 mile mark Paynter was caught behind several other horses and was never really a factor as he finished a disappointing 7th. Mike Smith, who was very upset with himself after the race for what he felt was a horrible ride, had the dubious distinction of finishing 2nd in all three Triple Crown races. In fact, Smith’s ability to slow the pace early in the race gave Paynter the opportunity to contend for the victory at all. Smith was aboard Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Bob Baffert trained both horses and narrowly lost all three Triple Crown races.