Well another Belmont in the books with no Triple Crown winner. That's okay, because all three races were as exciting as racing gets. With I’ll Have Another (IHA) scratching due to a tendon injury, it was a big letdown before the race. But in the end, it was a great race and one that will be talked about for years. The connections of IHA handled themselves with true class. Mike Smith, in my opinion, was way too hard on himself after the race. I thought that it was two Hall of Famer's at their best. John Velazquez rode a brave race coming through a narrow opening. I believe Mike went to the left hand to float out Atigun just enough to intimidate that foe and when he did, it left just enough room for Union Rags to put his head in the gap. When this happened, I believe that Paynter was taken by surprise and reacted by drifting out allowing Union Rags the room he needed to get through. If Mike had tried to close the hole at that point, there is no question there would have been contact an an iminent inquiry and possibly a disqualification. If Mike and Paynter would not have floated out, it is quite possible that the result would have been Atigun 1st, Paynter 2nd, and Union Rags, 3rd.
In the end it was race riding at it's best by John, Mike, and Julien Leparoux. Julien had John right where he wanted coming into the stretch and his only escape was the inside. Mike is one of the great masters of pace and he and Paynter controlled the pace, and actually cost several horses any chance when he slowed the pace to a walk in the second and third quarter. John was saving ground but had no where to go. But there was no panic, only patience and his was willingness to take his medicine.When the slight opening appeared Union Rags showed something I had yet to see from him, true heart and the ability to accelerate through a narrow opening. Yes, the final time and final quarter-mile were slow, but I believe that's because of the way the race developed.
In the end it was a great race to watch and one I will never forget. In all, it was a great Triple Crown and I look forward to seeing these developing three-year-olds later in the summer for the Travers Stakes (AKA the Mid-Summer Derby) and then on to the Breeders’ Cup to tackle their elders. The first half of the year is over, but really things are just getting started.
To everyone: thanks for three great classics.