Elmont, NY (Sports Network) - Co-favorite Union Rags found room along the rail to get past pacesetter Paynter and win Saturday's 144th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. The colt, ridden by John Velazquez, covered the 1 1/2 miles in 2:30.42 on a fast track.
Much of the luster of the race was lost due to the unfortunate scratch on Friday of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another with a left leg injury. Union Rags and Dullahan took over the favorite's spot with both going off at 5-2 in the 11 horse field.
The field broke cleanly from the gate with Paynter taking the lead as the 4-1 third choice. Running just a few lengths behind the leader was Union Rags and Dullahan was farther back in the field.
Paynter, with Mike Smith riding, continued to set the pace with Optimizer in second followed by Unstoppable U, My Adonis and Union Rags. Union Rags, who was seventh in the Kentucky Derby, was running on the inside about five lengths behind the pacesetter.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Paynter still led the field as they entered the final turn. Velazquez had Union Rags moving forward along the inside as Dullahan and jockey Javier Castellano also begin to advance.
Entering the stretch Paynter was on the lead with Unstoppable U in second and Union Rags in third near the rail. However, Dullahan was unable to move up into contention through the stretch.
Inside the eighth-pole Paynter still led with Atigun and Union Rags right behind him. Union Rags found an opening along the rail and was able to catch and pass the pacesetter.
Trained by Michael Matz, Union Rags posted a neck victory over Paynter followed by Atigun, Street Life, Five Sixteen, Unstoppable U, Dullahan, My Adonis, Ravelo's Boy, Optimizer and Guyana Star Dweej.
"I thought he did a terrific job, he broke cleanly," Matz said about Velazquez's ride.
It was the first time Velazquez ever rode Union Rags who had been ridden by Julien Leparoux. Velazquez also won the 2007 Belmont Stakes aboard the filly Rags to Riches.
"I thought I had a great trip," Velazquez said.
Union Rags, owned by Chadds Ford Stable, posted his second win of the year and fifth lifetime. The Belmont victory was worth $600,000 to bring the colt's career earnings to $1,798,800 in eight races.
The colt began 2012 by winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes, but was third to Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby.
Michael Matz is best known for training 2006 Kentucky Derby champ Barbaro.
Union Rags returned $7.50, $4.20 and $3.40. Paynter paid $5.10 and $3.90, and Atigun paid $10.60.
Bob Baffert becomes the first trainer since John Veitch in 1978 with Alydar to have a horse finish second in all three Triple Crown races. Baffert trains Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister.
Before the Belmont Stakes, there was a retirement ceremony in the winner's circle honoring I'll Have Another.
06/09 19:55:47 ET