Racing News

Belmont They Said It

  • Union Rags and connections (NYRA Photo via Facebook)

"I think he showed a lot of gameness today. Believe me, it's sure a lot nicer walking back after the races than it was in the Kentucky Derby, I'll tell you that. He came up to both races very, very good. He couldn't have trained any better going into the Derby. He was good in Florida. He's very easy to train. He likes to go out in the morning and gallop. He'll give you whatever he has."

trainer Michael Matz after Union Rags captured the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes

"I talked it over with Peter Brette, my assistant, and the second dam was Terpsichorist and she was by Nijinsky, and there's some distance right there. I know Dixie Unions haven't gone more than a mile and an eighth, but the way he trained and big as he is and his stride, we're in the same boat as everybody else in there. They didn't know if they could go mile and a half, either."

Matz on whether he was worried Union Rags would be able to get the 1 1/2-mile Belmont distance

"I would have to say yes, right now. I don't think those things can all be blamed on the horse. And I'm not blaming the riders, either. It was just circumstance that happened. Those are three races that are worth $5 million, so it's a big deal, yes."

Matz when asked if winning the Belmont made up for Union Rags' tough losses in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby

"They're both great. It's hard to compare to things like that. I mean, obviously, Barbaro was a great horse and to win your first Triple Crown race, it couldn't have been more fulfilling, and then to come back with a horse like this, I mean, win the Belmont. The Preakness has just been hard on me, I don't know. No, I feel very fortunate to have two horses like this. We did think that this horse in the beginning of the year could be a horse that possibly could do the Triple Crown races, and we just got sidetracked a little bit."

Matz on how this compares to winning his first Triple Crown race with Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby

"I thought he rode a brilliant race today. Whether he got up there or didn't, he still rode a great race. He got the horse away from the gate cleanly, got settled into stride, wherever he was. Johnny came up to me and I didn't say a word, I just said, 'Break and get into a nice rhythm.' He's a strong rider. To be quite honest, when Javier (Castellano) took off the horse, we asked John to ride the horse, but he could not give us a three-race commitment at the time because he was (going to ride) Animal Kingdom in Dubai. I didn't want to keep changing there, back and forth. He gets the mount anyway."

Matz praising the ride given to Union Rags by jockey John Velazquez in the Belmont

"Coming down the stretch, it wasn't my intentions to come (inside) there, but when the other horse came over and went out next to me, I said, 'This is my opportunity to get through on the rail.' I waited for a hole to open up and I got lucky. The horse did it all. At first, the hole was pretty tight, I engaged him to get into the hole -- I didn't know it was going to open up -- I anticipated it was going to open up, and he took it. Once he did, he put in a good fight. I was very impressed with the way he did it. Pulling up, I said to myself, 'He's really strong.' I loved the way he handled everything. When I asked him to do something, he did it. He did it very easy, and he galloped out very, very well. That's where I was really impressed the most."

jockey John Velazquez on opting to keep Union Rags on the inside and slipping through on the rail to win the Belmont

"(I'll Have Another) was not in the race, but I thought it was a very salty race. It was a very good race, a very competitive race. Even if he was in the race, we didn't know if he was going to win or if he was going to handle a mile and a half. Would he have been ready? I thought it was very exciting race. I think the public should be happy with it. I want to thank the media and everybody who came in and put the race out there. I think it was an unbelievable race."

Velazquez when asked if he thought the fans were disappointed with the Belmont since Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another was scratched

"I thought I'll Have Another would be close to the pace and I would follow him or Mike Smith's horse (Paynter). The only thing I didn't want was to do too much early in the race and not have enough left to fight Dullahan. That was the horse I was worried about today. Obviously, he didn't show up, but that was my plan. I wanted to get a good rhythm with him and then be watching out for those two horses. When (I'll Have Another) wasn't in there, it made it easier. I just followed the horse in front, and it worked out for me. I'm very proud of him."

Velazquez on whether he would have ridden Union Rags differently if I'll Have Another had been in the Belmont

"There were no excuses. The first quarter was a little quick, but he had to use him a little bit to get him over because we wanted to get him on the lead and shut down the (No. 2) horse (Unstoppable U) immediately, because I figured he was in there as a rabbit for the other horse (Atigun). Once he did that, he slowed them down and was in a perfect spot. He did all I could ask for. I had him ready. The crew did a great job, Jimmy Barnes and everybody. We had him ready, and we really thought today we were going to get it done. Unfortunately, we came up short, but we got beat by a nice horse."

—Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert after Belmont pacesetter Paynter finished second

"We were always really high on this horse. It just took him a little bit longer to come around. The horse is really green. He ran a hell of a race. I really like this horse a lot. I wanted to win one of these races so badly, I'm telling you. My crew deserves it more than anything; they work so hard. And (owner) Mr. (Ahmed) Zayat, he needed to win one of these. Poor guy. He really deserved it. It's a shame. It looked like we had it. It looked like it was ours. I really felt like I was going to win the Belmont. It was snatched away again."

—Baffert on runner-up Paynter

"Heartbreaking defeat. A heartbreaking defeat. He ran his guts out. It's just his fourth race. What do they call that race, the 'Test of the Champion?' To go a mile and a half the way he did, in only his fourth race, I am very lucky to have him. Not only that, today Justin Phillip (second in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens) was winning for fun in crazy numbers and got beat. Sometimes when you run a lot of seconds, they say you tripped, or you got lucky. But my horses are showing up and running big. Somehow we are not able to close the deal."

Zayat following Paynter's Belmont effort

"Both horses were in contention turning for home, but the gray horse (Unstoppable U) needed the race. He didn't have enough bottom under him. Atigun, he ran super. I was real pleased. He's just maturing; he's figured it out. He knows when to kick."

—trainer Kenny McPeek, who saddled Atigun to a third-place finish and Unstoppable U to a sixth-placing in the Belmont

"He was in the right spot and that is where the horse wanted to be. He made a run, and he was good enough to get up to be fourth, but that was probably was as good as it was going to be today."

—conditioner Chad Brown after Street Life ran fourth in the Belmont

"I don't think he really liked the track today. He's the type of horse who likes the turf or Polytrack more. The track was a little deep today and he kind of struggled a little bit. He was in a great position and not too far back. I was right in midpack which is right where I wanted to be. I was in a full drive and he never got a hold of the track. He never gave me the power and kick like he did at Churchill Downs (when finishing third in the Kentucky Derby). He was spinning his wheels."

jockey Javier Castellano, who piloted 5-2 favorite Dullahan to a seventh-placing in the Belmont

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