Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Union Rags Wins The Belmont Stakes

Yesterday, the 144th Belmont Stakes was won by Union Rags, jockeyed by John Velazquez in what turned out to be a rather emotional race for the world of Triple Crown horse racing.  John Velazquez sneaked Union Rags up along the fence to charge past front runner Mike Smith on trainer Bob Baffert’s Paynter.  It had to be a bitter defeat for Smith:

"I'm extremely proud of my horse. I thought he ran incredible," Smith said. "I'm not going to say I rode bad, but I made one little mistake: He (Union Rags) got inside of me, and it cost me the race. I'm a veteran. Ain't no one supposed to get inside of me." 
In all three races of the triple crown this year, Smith set the pace and led the pack through the race only to be defeated in the very last seconds before the finish line.  At the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, Mario Gutierrez aboard “I’ll Have Another” made stunning drives in the last moments to defeat Smith on Baffert’s Bodemeister.  You have to feel for Baffert and Smith, they have the bittersweet distinction of winning the 2012 Triple Crown in second place, in three almost identical defeats.  Bitter because they lost first place in the final strides of each race, but sweet because they still managed to haul in $800,000 total in second place purses for all three races.  They can feel bad all the way to the bank.  Union Rags won nothing in the Derby, finishing 7th, but won $600,000 for first place at Belmont.  “I’ll Have Another” won  $1,459,600 at the Derby and $600,000 at the Preakness. 

Union Rags Pulls Ahead of Paynter At The Finish Line
In an unhappy twist of fate, Baffert & Smith won the only Triple Crown winnings to be made this year.  The Crown was denied to “I’ll Have Another” when the horse developed tendonitis prior to the Belmont.  Owner J. Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill correctly decided not to run the horse on Friday, one day before the race, and “I’ll Have Another” was scratched from the starting line up.  It was a terrible blow to Reddam and O’Neill but an especially sad event for jockey Mario Gutierrez who was well placed to win the Triple Crown.  
There is some of commentary that scratching “I’ll Have Another” denied horse racing its Super Bowl, the Belmont was ran under a cloud, and the sport will ultimately suffer from this loss.  There is some concern that horse racing may ultimately be doomed.         
I really don’t know anything about horse racing, but I understand that horse racing has its problems.  Probably the biggest problem from a televised sport and entertainment standpoint is the race only lasts about two and half minutes.  It is even worse than Dancing With The Stars that somehow devotes three to five hours of programming to 18 minutes of dancing.  NBCs coverage of the Belmont was two and half hours, with the commercials intensifying right before the race.  There are questions involving the safety and health of the horses, another hot topic for the Belmont, and horse racing must now compete with other forms of legal gambling.  So yes, horse racing has its problems.
This ain't The Hat!
Jockey John Velazquez and owner Phyllis Wyeth
celebrate Union Rags' victory at the Belmont. 
My own take on this is that, yes, it would have been really cool to have “I’ll Have Another” run the Belmont and possibly have won the Triple Crown, but shit happens and to suggest that horse racing is not worth watching if it can’t have it’s Super Bowl to me is either ludicrous or speaks poorly of the fans.  The 2012 Belmont Stakes was still a very exciting race in spite of the loss of the Triple Crown.  This said by a commentator (me) who picks his horse on the basis of a hat! 
So my original choice back on the Cinco de Mayo was Union Rags because I really liked the ball cap that Union Rags‘ trainer, Michael Matz, and owner, Phyllis Wyeth wore.  That’s it, the ball cap...well that and a catchy name...Union Rags.  How the hell do you name a horse Union Rags?  Sort of the same way that many of us get named, for our parents and ancestry.  Union is from the horse’s sire which was Union Dixie.  Rags is definitely a family name.  The dam was Tempo who counts Glad Rags in her pedigree and who owned Glad Rags? Phyllis Wyeth’s mother,  Alice du Pont Mills.  

Phyllis Wyeth is the famous painter, Andrew Wyeth’s, daughter in law, married to Jaime Wyeth who is also a famous painter.  She owns Chadds Ford Stables and bred Union Rags.  She sold the horse as a yearling for $145,000.  She then had a dream of the horse winning and bought him back as a 2 year old for $390,000.  The grand hope for Union Rags, the Triple Crown was denied due to a poor gate start at the Derby jockeyed by Julien Leparoux.  The horse tripped and collided out of the gate and was boxed in.  It was 18 th on the first turn but managed to place 7th for the race.  With the Crown lost, Matz and Wyeth chose not to run Union Rags at the Preakness, but brought him back for the Belmont and changed to John Velazquez for the jockey.  In one of those odd statistics, this is Velazquez’s third win of a Triple Crown race after a jockey change. 
This is THE HAT!
Phyllis Wyeth several days before the Derby. 
One last bit of drama for the Belmont was the state of New York taking over New York Racing Association and then the decision to detain all the horses in a carefully watch detention barn for security reasons.  The trainers were not happy with the implication that they can not be trusted.  
All in all this years Belmont Stakes had a lot of high emotion and a very exciting photo finish race. 
So what is all this crap about hats?  On the pre-race coverage for the Kentucky Derby, they interviewed Michael Matz, Union Rags’ trainer.  Matz had on this tan ball cap with Union Rags embroidered on it.  It was a lovely hat and I want one.  So based on the hat I chose Union Rags to win the Derby.  Well it didn’t work that way.  “I’ll Have Another” won the Derby despite Doug O’Neill having a rather crappy hat.  It looked like something my father wore to funerals in 1963.  Well hats only carry so much weight for me, and I wanted “I’ll Have Another” to win the Triple Crown.  So did Mario Gutierrez and I think that he and his horse could have pulled it off, but fate intervened.  So with “I’ll Have Another” out of the running for the Triple Crown, the hat tugged at my heart and my loyalties returned to Union Rags for the Belmont.
OK, this is a hat, but it ain't The Hat.
Available Overlay Apparel, $30.00

I searched the Internet for THE HAT.  Couldn’t find one.  I did find this one, and while it is close, it is not THE HAT.  Also $30 is a little stiff for a retired guy.  If it was THE HAT I would go for it. 

This ain't The Hat.  BTW how's your game?
Available $26.00

I bought a Titleist hat one time because there was a article in Newsweek on top caddies and one dude had this hat on.  I thought it was cool.  I had to stop wearing it.  I have never had a golf club in my hands and every once in a while some friendly soul would ask me about my game. 

This ain't The Hat either.
Doug O'Neill announcing the decision to pull
I'll Have Another from the Belmont.

Even though I hate Doug O'Neill's hat, I do feel bad that the horse could not run the race.  I really believe that Mario Gutierrez and I'll Have Another had a very good shot at winning the Triple Crown prior to the tendonitis.  I think O'Neill and Reddam did the right thing by scratching the horse from the race.   Myself, I think the horse got bad vibes from that stupid hat. 

Mayor Giuliani, September 2001

Edit 6-12-2012

Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the aftermath of 9/11.  A very cool hat which was a powerful symbol to a shocked and grieving nation.


Image Credits:

Belmont Stakes Logo:  The Belmont Stakes Store

Phyllis Wyeth & John Velazquez:  Newsday, Dream Comes True for Owner Phyllis Wyeth.

Phyllis Wyeth Union Rags Cap:  Yahoo Sports, Rob Carr/Getty Images


  1. Hi,
    I didn't know enough now to predict, but my mother was pulling for the horse that won-after the horse she was rooting for got pulled. Do you believe in lucky hats? I had a beret I wore for years that was lucky for me. Now I need a different sort of hat. I crochet them-but I don't have one I think is lucky, perhaps I can concoct it somehow.
    I enjoyed your piece.

    1. I like hats, but not necessarily wearing them. It is a necessity to keep the sun from burning my head. The only hats I wear are ball caps, even in winter, and for some reason I like them to be expressive in a certain way. THE HAT is really cool. The Union Rags with the jockey shirt is not. Don't know why. As far as lucky hats? I don't know, I have a hat that blew off my head into the Allegheny River while boating with a friend. It was a US Naval Academy hat and maybe it felt the call of the water. I said "Ah shit I lost my hat!" The boat owner said "No you didn't" and pulled a sharp u turn at 30 mph and damned near pitched my wife and I out of the boat. We recovered the hat. I wear it now only to cut grass. I have never lost an appendage to the lawn mower, so perhaps it is a lucky hat. If I would have had a hat on the Cinco de Mayo when the robin shit on my head, I would haver certainly regarded that as my lucky hat.

      If I had a Union Rags hat (THE REAL HAT--not the officially licensed hat) I would certainly have worn it for the Derby and the Belmont and thought its luck the same as the horse's luck. I think in my heart that had Phyllis worn her Union Rags ball cap during the Kentucky Derby, rather than that horrid thing she had on, Union Rags would have known she was rooting for him and won the race. Hell that may be Baffert's problem, he and his wife don't wear hats.

      I can't explain Doug O'Neill's luck. His hats are terrible. Dapper things that Frank Sinatra or my father would have worn in the 60s. Yet Indiana Jones had a cool hat.

      I have been thinking of writing Phyllis Wyeth and requesting a real Union Rags HAT. If I promised to wear it every time the horse ran, do you think she would send me one?

      I wanted a FDNY ball cap after 9-11. Why? Mayor Giuliani wore one in the immediate aftermath. I have never been a fan of Rudy before or since, but for a few days, perhaps weeks, in September of 2001, the man quit being a politician and stepped up to the plate and gave New York City and the United States a sense of leadership in a very dark hour. That hat was a powerful symbol. Giuliani gave recognition to a strata of society we normally take for granted.

      Much unhappiness later evolved out of the 9-11 tragedy, but in the immediate days following that very black day, Giuliani gave the city and the country something that it very much needed and used a symbol of the common man to great effect.

      Sarah, as always, it is a delight to have you stop by and comment, thanks.

  2. Wow. My dear, from races to Dancing with the Stars, to hats. What I love most about your longer posts is marveling at the bounces of your brain--without losing continuity of the whole.

    I can say nothing at all profound here. I just love reading the entries and, if you'll forgive me, enjoying the ride.

    1. Jette!

      Always a pleasure! Truth be told neither of said anything profound here! Who the hell picks a horse based on a hat?

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.