Posts Tagged ‘John Velazquez’

Union Rags Captures Belmont Stakes 2012

How sweet it is. Union Rags received a ground saving trip and ran down a game Paynter in the final strides to capture the 144th Belmont Stakes at Big Sandy on June 9.

Union Rags

Union Rags beats Paynter in Belmont Stakes 2012 – photo by Eclipse Sportswire

I have been touting this horse since last September and it was great to see my Derby top redeem himself under new pilot John Velazquez.

He has been my top ranked Triple Crown series contender since last November and I never lost faith after a pair of troubled journeys in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby under Julien Leparoux.

Michael Matz did a great job preparing the strapping son of Dixie Union for the Test of Champions and he received stamina from the female side of his pedigree as predicted.

This was the start of a big second half of 2012 for Union Rags and it is on to races like the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

I hope to catch up with him in person at Santa Anita Park in the fall!

 

 

 

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Can Union Rags Beat I’ll Have Another in the Belmont Stakes?

Union Rags has not improved since turning three. He always finds trouble. He is not bred to run a mile and a half. He is overrated. Are any of these statements true? Are all of them true? I have been reading similar comments about Union Rags on HorseRacingNation.com and it is time to find out if he is the real McCoy or a paper tiger.

Union Rags

Is Union Rags a Belmont Stakes contender or pretender? – photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Did Union Rags peak as a juvenile?

I agree that Union Rags has not moved forward from a speed figure standpoint but circumstances have prevented him from running fast.

It is difficult to earn a high speed rating in races without much pace. Just ask I’ll Have Another. He did not earn flashy numbers in the Robert Lewis Stakes and SA Derby because those two races had below par early fractions.

Union Rags cruised in the paceless Fountain of Youth and finished a troubled 3rd behind wire job winner Take Charge Indy in the similarly slow-paced Florida Derby. He was only beaten a bit more than a length in his better than looked final Derby prep and appeared to be sitting on the race of his life on the first Saturday in May.

Unfortunately, his Kentucky Derby hopes were dashed before they started. He was shuffled back to 19th early and ended up a respectable 7th after getting eliminated at the break. So long, Julien Leparoux!

Is Union Rags trouble-prone?

Union Rags is not trouble-prone but jockey Julien Leparoux sure found plenty of it in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. His situation reminds me of Lookin At Lucky in 2010.

Jockey Garrett Gomez could do nothing right aboard Lookin At Lucky in the SA Derby and Kentucky Derby. Bob Baffert reached out to Martin Garcia and Lookin At Lucky won the Preakness, Haskell, and Indiana Derby.

Union Rags exits back-to-back miserable trips and the rider switch to John Velazquez comes at the perfect time. Johnny V knows Belmont Park like the back of his hand and won the 2007 Belmont Stakes aboard Rags To Riches.

Does Union Rags have the breeding to handle twelve furlongs?

His late sire Dixie Union won the G1 Haskell in 2000, defeating Captain Steve and Milwaukee Brew. He sired 39 stakes winners from his first eight crops. Dixie Union’s sire was Dixieland Band (by Northern Dancer), a Maryland-bred horse I remember when I first started following racing in the early 1980’s. Dixieland Band ran in the 1983 Belmont Stakes and finished 14th.  Dixie Union’s offspring are usually effective up to a mile and an eighth.

His dam Tempo raced three times, winning her first two starts at six furlongs and finishing 2nd at a flat mile in her career finale for trainer Bill Mott. Tempo’s sire Gone West (by Mr. Prospector) was on the Triple Crown trail in 1987, making waves in the Hutcheson (2nd), Fountain of Youth (3rd), Gotham (1st),  Wood Memorial (2nd), Withers (1st), and Peter Pan (2nd), before finishing 6th in the Belmont Stakes. The late Gone West sired his 100th stakes winner earlier this year.

If Union Rags is going to find added stamina, it will most likely come from Tempo’s mother Terpsichorist (by Nijinsky II). Virginia-bred Terpsichorist was a long distance turf specialist in the late 1970’s, winning races like New York’s Long Island and Sheepshead Bay Handicaps.

Although his pedigree is less than ideal for twelve furlongs, Union Rags has the right running style and proper energy distribution to handle the Test of Champions. He earned strong Late Pace Ratings in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and quality conditioner Michael Matz should have him primed for his best effort at Belmont Park on June 9.

Is Union Rags the best 3yo in the country?

Union Rags has been my top ranked Triple Crown trail colt since last November and I still think he is the most talented sophomore in the land. I thought he had the raw talent to make a run at the Triple Crown but it was not meant to be.

His best career race was a facile victory at Belmont Park in last year’s G1 Champagne Stakes and he could play the Triple Crown spoiler if he handles the trip and gets to stretch his legs around the sweeping turns. I predict a preferred outside stalk and pounce trip under new pilot Johnny V…may the best horse win!

Belmont Stakes 2012 – I’ll Have Another Triple Crown

I’ll Have Another will take one final step in his quest for Triple Crown glory in the twelve furlong Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9, 2012.

Union Rags

Is Union Rags the Belmont Stakes spoiler? – photo by Eclipse Sportswire

There is no shortage of fresh horses waiting for him in the Test of Champions including my top ranked 3-year-old Union Rags.

I have always thought that Union Rags was the most talented colt of his generation and he is already a grade one winner at Belmont Park. His new rider John Velazquez won the Belmont Stakes in 2007 aboard Rags To Riches and the Michael Matz trainee could play spoiler on June 9.

Dullahan is a 2-time grade one winner and was last seen rallying for the show in the Kentucky Derby. He can seemingly run all day and looms a late running threat under new pilot Javier Castellano.

Alpha loves the Big Apple and owns a long winded pedigree. He finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby but could go much better at Big Sandy. His trainer Kiaran McLaughlin saddled 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil.

Bodemeister is getting a rest but trainer Bob Baffert could be represented by late bloomer Paynter. The G3 Derby Trial runner-up earned a 106 BSF in a romping allowance win on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico on May 19.

At this stage at least a dozen horses are aiming at the Belmont Stakes. Check out Horse Racing Nation for all of the latest Triple Crown news and I’ll post daily blogs here with updated Belmont Stakes news.

Belmont Stakes 2012

Spiral Stakes 2012 Recap – Went The Day Well rolls home

The lone graded Kentucky Derby 2012 prep at Turfway Park was run on Saturday and Went The Day Well emerged as a contender on the first Saturday in May after cruising home in the G3 Spiral Stakes for Graham Motion and Team Valor.

G3 Spiral (3-24-12): 92 BSF (Went The Day Well)

Went The Day Well

Is Went The Day Well the next Animal Kingdom? - photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Heavy Breathing carved out the early splits for Todd Pletcher, with Went The Day Well positioned perfectly behind the speed along the rail under John Velazquez.

Pletcher’s other colt Holiday Promise was sitting midpack at almost 26-1 and expected early runner Handsome Mike broke 12th and last after losing his footing and getting bumped at the start.

Heavy Breathing put away overmatched pace rivals Ill Conceived and Coach Royal but Went The Day Well was always traveling smoothly and passed the front runner after six furlongs.

Holiday Promise made a wide move and tried to gain on the new leader but got a bit weary in late stretch while settling for runner-up honors.

Heavy Breathing was a comfortable 3rd and was followed across the line by Handsome Mike, Stealcase, All Squared Away, Ill Conceived, Russian Greek, Tizanexpense, Red Jack, Mr. Prankster, and Coach Royal.

Went The Day Well picked up $282,000 in graded earnings on March 24, which should be more than enough to make the Derby gate. The promising son of Proud Citizen handles dirt, turf, and synthetic, and Motion/Team Valor have plenty of options with the versatile sort this year. He was green in the Turfway stretch before kicking away to win by 3-1/2 lengths. He has some catching up to do and seems a cut or two below the best at this stage. The G3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 21 could be next.

It should be noted that Animal Kingdom won the Spiral Stakes and Kentucky Derby for Graham Motion, Team Valor, and John Velazquez last year…deja vu all over again?

Spiral Stakes Grade: C+ (78 out of 100)

 

 

To Honor And Serve Returns in Fountain of Youth

2011 Kentucky Derby hopeful To Honor And Serve, winner of the 2010 Nashua and Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, tops a field of eight in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb 26. The nine furlong event is the 10th race on Saturday’s card.

The exciting 3-year-old son of Bernardini, out of Deputy Minister dam Pilfer, finished second in his sprint debut at Saratoga last summer before reeling off three straight wins to end his juvenile campaign. He defeated recent Risen Star Stakes winner Mucho Macho Man in the Nashua and Remsen.

Bill Mott trains To Honor And Serve for Live Oak Plantation. John Velazquez, who was aboard for the Remsen, will be back in the saddle on Saturday.

To Honor And Serve has worked six times at Payson Park in preparation for his 2011 bow, including a bullet four furlong move on Feb 20.

His competition includes graded stakes winners Soldat and Gourmet Dinner.