The Belmont Stakes
Michael Matz is well known among hunter/jumper folks. He won a team medal at the 1996 Olympics on the U.S. Show Jumping team. He also competed on the U.S. team in at the 1976 and 1992 Olympics; he was on the 1986 World Championship show jumping team and in 1981 won the individual World Cup on Jet Run. He is known among horse racing fans as the trainer of the 2006 Kentucky Derby winnerBarbaro, who then broke down at the start of the Preakness. Folks faithfully followed Barbaro’s progress for almost a year, after he underwent multiple surgeries on a badly broken leg before finally being put down in early 2007.
In the Kentucky Derby, Union Rags was knocked around coming out of the starting gate, was never able to recover a better position, and finished in seventh place. He didn’t run in the Preakness.
In the Belmont, Baffert-trained Paynter set the pace right out of the starting gate and led for nearly the entire race. Just strides before the finish line, jockey John Velazquez guided his horse between Paynter's left hind quarters and the rail – a tight fit, forcing Paynter to veer slightly to the right. This gave Union Rags enough room to muscle on through, passing Paynter on the left and putting a nose in front at the pole to win the144th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes.
With the exception of a nick on his left hind leg, Paynter returned to the barn in good shape. “He lost his left hind shoe in the race,” Baffert said. “I don’t know when it happened, but it must have been near the end.” (NYRA Press Office quote)
Union Rag’s owner Phyllis Wyeth has been confined to a wheelchair since 2001, the result of car wreck 50 years ago, but she was able to join her horse, trainer and jockey in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park. Jockey Velazquez will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. later this summer.
To watch a video of the race visit: www.belmontstakes.com
Photos credit: Getty Images
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