winner of Saturday’s 144th running of the Grade 1, $1 million
Belmont Stakes, was a happy horse this morning in Michael Matz’s barn at
the Fair Hill training center in Elkton, Md., the trainer reported.
“He was looking out the door, waiting to get outside,” said
Matz of Union Rags, who departed Belmont
Park several hours after
his neck victory over Paynter in the 1 ½-mile “Test of the
Champion.” “He got out [to the paddock], had a little roll, started
to eat some grass and watched the other horses walk to the track and
Matz continued to give credit to jockey John Velazquez and Union Rags
for their bold move inside Paynter to take the lead in the final yards.
“It was an awfully small hole for such a big horse to fit
through,” he said. “I have to give him and Johnny credit. They got
Union Rags, who won the Grade 2 Three Chimneys Saratoga Special as a
2-year-old, could make a return appearance to Saratoga Race Course this summer,
“At this point right now I think what we’ll do is look at
some of those, whether it’s the Haskell [at Monmouth Park], the Jim Dandy
[Grade 2, $600,000, July 28], the Travers [Grade 1, $1 million, August 25],
whatever, one of those races down the line with a little time in
between,” he said.
Matz conceded that while the newly retired I’ll Have Another was
clearly the leading 3-year-old off his victories over Bodemeister in the
Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he “wasn’t throwing in the towel, by
any means” when it came to a second-half bid for an Eclipse Award.
“It all depends on how we finish the season,” he said.
“They ran one time against each other and that was it. He was very
impressive in those two races he ran with Bodemeister. Again, I was so confused
with the voting last year as a 2-year-old [Union Rags was second to Hansen],
who knows what can go on?”
Union Rags, who was 3-1-0 from four starts as a 2-year-old, including a
victory in Belmont’s Grade 1 Champagne and a second to Hansen in the
Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth to kick
off his 2012 campaign, and then finished third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and
seventh as the 5-1 second choice in the Kentucky Derby.
Asked if during that time he lost confidence in the Dixie Union colt,
who is owned by Phyllis Wyeth, Matz simply said: “No.”
“I wasn’t sure with the 1 ½ miles,” he said. “I’m
sure all the other trainers were not sure whether their horses could get 1 ½
miles. Nobody knows that. Obviously, we did get the 1 ½ miles good enough. I
just thought he needed to run in one of those Triple Crown races. He deserved
it. I’m glad we did [run].”