Trainer Michael Matz confirmed May 22 that Union Rags will be ridden by jockey John Velazquez in the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
In the colt’s previous three starts, he was piloted by Julien Leparoux, who guided him to victory in the Feb. 26 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
Most recently, however, the pair finished third in the March 31 Florida Derby (gr. I) and seventh, beaten 7 1/2 lengths following a troubled trip in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Union Rags will be one of the challengers seeking to upend I'll Have Another 's bid to be the 12th winner of the Triple Crown. I'll Have Another won the Derby 1 1/2 lengths, then won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) in dramatic fashion May 19 over Bodemeister .
“Julian was good with the horse…but he got in trouble in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby and I don’t think the horse really had a chance to run,” said Matz, who conditions Union Rags for owner/breeder Phyllis Wyeth. “Whether it was the horse, the jockey, or the trainer, I don’t know, but we decided to make a change.”
Matz said they hired Velazquez because “he’s a leading New York rider. We picked him because we felt he might suit the horse.”
The trainer indicated Velazquez had agreed to a multi-race commitment with Union Rags.
“We didn’t specify what races… I just wanted someone to stick with the horse and he said he would," Matz said. "Obviously if it doesn’t go well between Johnny and the horse, we will talk it over. There was no contract or anything…whether we made the right choice or not, this is what the Wyeths, my assistant, and I came up with.”
Union Rags is currently stabled at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, where he is scheduled to work this week and next. Velazquez is slated to be aboard the colt during next week’s work. Matz said Union Rags will be shipped to Belmont Park a couple days before the Belmont Stakes.
In addition to the Fountain of Youth, Union Rags won last year’s Champagne (gr. I) and Three Chimneys Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) and finished second in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
Sporting a record of 4-1-1 from seven starts, Union Rags has earned $1,198,800.