Jockey John Velazquez, right, drives Union Rags past front-running Paynter and jockey Mike Sm ith, left, as they approach the finish line of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Saturday, June 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
NEW YORK (AP) — Union Rags picked up where I’ll Have Another left off — coming from behind to catch a Bob Baffert-trained horse at the finish in a Triple Crown race.
In Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, it was even a photo finish.
Union Rags rallied through an opening on the rail to edge Paynter by a neck, dealing Baffert a third loss in this year’s Triple Crown series.
I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with stirring stretch drives over Baffert’s Bodemeister. But the champion was scratched from the Belmont on Friday and retired due to a tendon injury, relinquishing a shot at a Triple Crown sweep.
His absence opened up the race for Union Rags, who finished a troubled seventh in the Derby.
A crowd of 85,811 cheered as Paynter and Union Rags battled down the stretch, and Union Rags barely caught the front-runner at the end to win by a neck.
Trained by Michael Matz, Union Rags skipped the Preakness and was for the Belmont jockey John Velazquez replaced Julien Leparoux aboard the horse.
Union Rags was along the inside in the middle of the pack until it was time to make a move for the lead. Velazquez guided Union Rags to the inside of the front-running Paynter and relentlessly closed the gap and won by a neck.
Union Rags, the 5-2 second choice behind Dullahan, covered the 1½ miles in 2:30.42. The colt owned by Phyllis Wyeth returned $7.50, $4.20 and $3.40. Paynter paid $5.10 and $3.90. Atigun was third and paid $10.60.