With the 12 horses in the Belmont Stakes racing at 1 ½ miles for the first time in their careers, the distance is a question mark for all.
Although the progeny of Union Rags’ sire, Dixie Union, typically do their best running up to 1 1/8 miles, trainer Michael Matz said the colt’s pedigree on his mother’s side will help him get the distance.
“His second and third dam were 1 ½-mile horses,” Matz said, referring to Terpsichorist, who won up to 1 5/8 miles, including route victories in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap and Grade 3 Long Island Handicap, and Glad Rags II, a champion filly in Ireland. “They ran 1 ½ miles, and I think that’s where he gets the distance from. Dixie Union hasn’t produced anything over 1 1/8 miles, but I think on the female side, there’s a distance pedigree. He’s a big horse with a long stride; he covers the ground easy but we don’t know. Nobody knows. They’ll probably never run this distance again in their lives. It’s a big question mark.”
Union Rags, who schooled in the Belmont paddock on Thursday, had a brilliant career at age 2 and was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, only to finish a disappointing seventh after a troubled trip. With a new jockey in John Velazquez, who replaces Julien Leparoux, Matz would love nothing more than to see his horse get a clean journey to show what he can do.
“He’s [Union Rags] coming in very good; he worked very good,” Matz told NYRA Press on Thursday. “All I am asking for is a clean trip. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He had two unfortunate races. Whether it was the rider, the trainer, or the horse, I don’t know. Sometimes you just have to do something to go about it a little differently. I think he had some bad luck.
“I don’t think he had a chance his last two races to run. I don’t think you can blame it on him. We’ll find out Saturday. A mile-and-a-half might not be the place to start, but it’s the last Triple Crown race and I think he deserves a chance.”
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.
Union Rags/NYRA photo