Union Rags, winner of Saturday’s 144th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, was a happy horse Sunday morning.
The hero of the Belmont Stakes was back home 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.”
Matz continued to praise 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 it done.”
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, said Matz.
“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, Aug, 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?”
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].”
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.
Union Rags/NYRA photo by Trevor Miles