For the third time in five weeks, a Bob Baffert trained colt attempted to go gate-to-wire in a Triple Crown race. And for the third time in five weeks, that colt was passed in the final 100 yards, settling for an agonizing second place finish.
Like his stablemate Bodemeister, Paynter went right to the lead of the last jewel of the Triple Crown, setting solid fractions through the opening half mile. Jockey Mike Smith, much like he was able to do with Bodemeister in the Preakness, slowed down Paynter in the middle parts of the race and looked like he was riding a winner at the top of the stretch.
Union Rags, after a spring of troubled trips and disappointment, looked like he might not get the racing room needed in the final furlongs on Saturday. As Paynter attempted to wire the field, Union Rags began to make a move along the rail with Atigun to his outside. Had Mike Smith been able to keep Paynter on the rail, John Velazquez and Union Rags would have been forced to go to the outside where they likely would have lost momentum and failed to run down the leader. Fortunately for Union Rags and Johnny V., there was just enough room to make a move and Union Rags, in a move that brought a bit of redemption after a spring of heartbreak, ran past Paynter in the final yards for the victory.
Below are the factions and internal splits for the Belmont. Notice the second and third internal splits by Paynter - 25.52 and 25.49 - after a quick opening quarter, Smith and Paynter settled into a nice, easy gallop on the front of the field. They picked up the pace in the fourth quarter when they clicked off a 24.13 split, but then started to slow down a little heading into the last half mile.
The final time of the Belmont was 2:30.42, a tepid time confirmed by Union Rags earning some of the lowest speed figures* for the Belmont Stakes in the last decade. Union Rags received a Beyer Speed Figure of 96 for his win in the Belmont, the second lowest Beyer since 2000 (Drosselmeyer's 94 in 2010 is the lowest).
*Speed figures are a measurement of how fast a horse ran in a particular race, adjusted for the inherent speed or slowness of the track on that particular day as compared to the standard or "par".. In theory, speed figures can compare the performance of horses at different distance and different tracks through the use of a single number.
The next steps for the still-running Triple Crown stars - Union Rags, Bodemeister, Paynter, Dullahan, and Creative Cause - will now turn towards the summer racing season and, if everything proceeds accordingly, the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in early November.
Union Rags will likely run next in either the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park or the Travers at Saratoga. Belmont runner-up Paynter will head back to Southern California and then return to the East Coast for the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. According to trainer Bob Baffer, Derby and Preakness runner-up Boemeister is pointing to the Haskell.
Dullahan, third in the Derby but a disappointing 6th as the favorite in the Belmont, has a lot of options going forward to the summer racing season. He's won races on turf and synthetic surface but, despite running well, has never tasted victory over dirt. Dullahan could point to the big races at Monmouth Park and Saratoga, or trainer Dale Romans could elect to put him back on the grass and take a shot at the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in August.
Key Future Stakes Races
Arlington International Festival of Racing (Arlington Million, Beverly D, Secretariat Stakes)
Hollywood Gold Cup
Jim Dandy Stakes
Jockey Club Gold Cup
Stephen Foster Handicap
2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park - November 2nd and 3rd.