NEW YORK — New Yorkers went wild at Belmont Park Saturday evening as Union Rags won first place to end out a controversial — and for some, disappointing — 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Paynter placed in a close second, and Atigun showed in third place, ending the bid for the exciting race, which was altered at the last moment when I’ll Have Another was scratched due to a tendon injury.
Before the race, Union Rags' owner, Phyllis Wyeth told DNAinfo.com New York, "I hope it's the lucky shot."
After the race, Wyeth was joyous over her win, saying she had believed in the horse from the moment she began training for the Belmont Stakes.
"I knew he could do it," Wyeth told the crowd in a ceremony in the Winner's Circle, right in front of the finish line where Union Rags edged out Paynter after they went wire-to-wire down the track towards the end of the race.
"It was unbelievable," Wyeth added. "He said, 'Move over, because I'm coming.'"
For Wyeth, the horse's win is really a love story come true. The colt was the subject of the documentary, "Union Rags: An American Love Story," about how Wyeth sold him, at the suggestion of her accountant, for $145,000 in 2010, but had such a strong feeling about him winning races that she bought him back one year later for $390,000.
Union Rags' jockey told the crowd that the horse really had it in him.
"I have to give it to the horse," said jockey John Velazquez. "He did everything I asked him to."
Many fans watching had been rooting for Union Rags during the race, after being forced to scratch their first pick, I'll Have Another.
"I just like the horse," spectator Leah Dubb said about the win. "I wanted Union Rags to win, because they said he had already peaked."
Suzy Bailey, the wife of jockey Jerry Bailey and the author of horse-racing website "Coffe Break With Friends," agreed that it was a great race, even though it began with a disappointment.
"It's always sad when we don't have a Triple Crown, but it was a beautiful race," Bailey said. "It was a perfect trip."
The previous Triple Crown contestant was certainly not forgotten. Although Union Rags goes home as the winner, the New York Racing Association and loyal, well-dressed fans, made sure that I’ll Have Another went out in style.
The Kentucky-bred colt was toasted at a retirement ceremony held at the Winner’s Circle, near moments before the Belmont Stakes started.
The horse, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, lost the chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed took the title in 1978.
The televised retirement ceremony was held instead of a post parade with jockey Mario Gutierrez, an event that was originally planned when the horse’s owner, J. Paul Reddam, announced Friday that the horse would be pulled from the race.
Instead, I’ll Have Another’s groomers walked him to the winner’s circle and trainer Doug O’Neill removed his saddle.
“It’s devastating. I really wanted him to compete," Dale Romans, the trainer of Dullahan, said in a release about the horse being scratched.
"This was going to be a special race, one of the biggest races of our time. It’s just devastating.”
Only seven horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1990, and if I’ll Have Another had won, it would have been the race’s first Triple Crown in 34 years.
Many horses, including Dullahan and Union Rags, skipped one of the Triple Crown races to prepare for Belmont Stakes, the most grueling of the three as a 1 ½ mile lap. The Derby is 1 ¼ miles, and Preakness is 1 and 3/16 miles.
Since the 1970s, few horses have come close to winning the Triple Crown. Most recently, Big Brown’s Triple Crown hopes were dashed in 2008.
In 2004, the largest crowd in New York Racing history, 120,139 people, attended the Belmont to see Smarty Jones attempt the 12th Triple Crown win.