Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Union Rags rallies to win 144th running of Belmont Stakes

From Richard Roth, CNN
updated 9:19 PM EDT, Sat June 9, 2012
Union Rags, ridden by John Velazquez edges past Paynter, ridden by Mike Smith, to win the Belmont Stakes.
Union Rags, ridden by John Velazquez edges past Paynter, ridden by Mike Smith, to win the Belmont Stakes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Union Rags' owner describes his late charge as "unbelievable"
  • NEW: "When I asked him, he did it for me," the horse's jockey says
  • I'll Have Another ceremoniously retires Saturday before the start of the Belmont Stakes
  • The horse dropped out due to injury, ending his Triple Crown hopes

Elmont, New York (CNN) -- Union Rags roared from behind to win the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, one day after the winner of the first two legs of horse racing's fabled Triple Crown dropped out due to an injury.

Paynter led for much of the race, but ended up in second after jockey John Velazquez led Union Rags on a late charge. Atigun came in third.

"I knew he would make it, and I knew (trainer) Michael (Matz) could do it with him," the colt's owner Phyllis Wyeth told NBC, which covered the race. "And nobody would have gotten through on the rail other than Johnny today. That was unbelievable."

Wyeth, who owns a small horse farm about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, had sold Union Rags only to later repurchase him at auction. The horse had entered the Kentucky Derby as among the favorites, but faltered and ended up in seventh.

During Saturday's race, Union Rags hung around in the middle of the pack before Velazquez squeezed him in along the rail, where he edged out Paynter by a head.

"I've got to give it to the horse," Velazquez said. "When I asked him, he did it for me."

Union Rags did not run in the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont crowd of 85,811 wagered $13.8 million on the day's races, according to the New York Racing Association.

I'll Have Another had entered the New York race as the runaway favorite, having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But he dropped out after developing tendonitis, prompting his owner to subsequently announce the colt's retirement from racing.

A day after owner J. Paul Reddam announced I'll Have Another's racing career was over, and minutes before the Belmont Stakes contenders broke from the gates, the injured colt was led to that race's winner's circle and ceremoniously retired.

The coulda, woulda, shoulda Triple Crown winners

"He's had an incredible run," trainer Doug O'Neill said Saturday. "Could we have run him? Yes. But would that have been the right move? No. I was proud of the whole team."

Overheard on CNN.com: If wishes were horses, 'Another' Secretariat would rise

I'll Have Another jockey Mario Gutierrez, born in Mexico, described the "unbelievable journey" he has been on -- rocketing from relative obscurity racing in western Canada to international fame in his first two Triple Crown contests -- thanks to I'll Have Another. The jockey expressed faith that the horse, had he been healthy, would have made history Saturday.

"A lot of people didn't believe in him since (the) Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, (opining that) everything was going to be a huge deal for him. And he proved them wrong," Gutierrez told reporters Saturday. "I know if he was 100% today, he would prove everybody wrong again."

Affirmed, in 1978, was the last horse to win the Triple Crown -- the name of the triumph for horses that win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Since 1990, only seven horses have won the first two legs.

The Belmont is considered to be the longest and most grueling of the three Triple Crown races. The horses run one complete lap over 1½ miles. The Derby is 1¼ miles, and the Preakness is 1 and 3/16 miles.

The Triple Crown did not acquire its name until Sir Barton won all three races in 1919. Just 11 horses have won the prestigious honor, most recently in 1978, when Affirmed grabbed the title.

Animal welfare activists: Horse racing industry needs reform

Only two other Derby and Preakness winners were unable to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown: Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936.

CNN's Lateef Mungin and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:38 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Click through our gallery of the most dramatic moments from the world of sport.
updated 12:06 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Whisper it quietly, but after years of foreign domination the prospect of a French winner of the Tour de France is more than just a mere pipe dream.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Seven years ago Steve Way was a 20 per day smoker and weighed a hefty 104 kg, but he led the marathon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
After just one day of competition, a new sport has emerged at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow: snapping selfies with the Queen.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Inspirational cyclist Joanna Rowsell added another gold to her growing collection in the individual pursuit at the Commonwealth Games.
updated 12:04 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, an actor upstaged the Queen by kissing a male dancer.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Of course not. But former Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed seems to think the removal of Michael Jackson's statue was a very "bad" idea.
updated 12:36 PM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Second-tier French side Clermont Foot appoint Helena Costa -- the country's first ever professional female coach of a male team.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
The All Blacks and their fans are focused on one thing, says Dan Carter: becoming the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups.
updated 9:08 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
The 2002 bomb attacks in Bali had many victims -- including a touring rugby team from Hong Kong.
Photographer Danny Lyon spent three days with Muhammad Ali in 1972 and shares his best photos and memories of the champ.
updated 7:54 AM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
updated 6:25 AM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
Her paintings may sell for thousands of dollars, but she is best known for a modeling shot 50 years ago that helped launch a business empire.
ADVERTISEMENT