Sunday, June 10, 2012
TRANSCRIPT OF 144TH BELMONT STAKES POST-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
THE MODERATOR: Okay. We are now joined live in the interview room by the winning jockey and trainer of Union Rags on the left, jockey John Velazquez, his second the Belmont Stakes victory, having captured the Stakes with Rags to Riches. Michael, his second Triple Crown race victory. Of course, he won in the Kentucky Derby in 2006 with Barbaro. Mrs. Phyllis Wyeth, by the way, preferred that just John and Michael handle this session. So we'll just have the winning rider and trainer.
Congratulations, gentlemen. Fine performance and, Michael, my first question for you: As great a career as Union Rags has had to date, there's been some disappointment here and there mixed in. Tough trip loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. And in a Kentucky Derby in where which he didn't have the opportunity to make his best run. Does this kind of make up for the mishaps of the past?
THE MODERATOR: And one change that was made for today's race, Michael, is John Velazquez on board. Can you comment on the ride he gave Union Rags and what difference it made in your eyes?
MICHAEL MATZ: Well, I thought he rode a brilliant race today, and whether he got up there, or didn’t, he still rode a great race. He got the horse away from the gate cleanly, got settled into stride wherever he was. We just gave him the -- John, he came up to me he said, I didn't say a word. He just said break and get in a nice rhythm and go from there. That's exactly what he did. He's a strong rider. He knows Belmont and that was some of the things that figured into picking John. And to be quite honest, when Javier took off the horse, we did ask John to ride the horse, but he could not give us a three-race commitment at that time because he was riding Animal Kingdom in Dubai, and I didn't want to keep changing there, back and forth, so he gets him out anyway.
THE MODERATOR: John, that three-race commitment is looking pretty good for you right now. Can you take us through the trip you had out there with Union Rags and also your ability late in the race to kind of sneak through on the rail?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Well, you know, the main concern with him was that I wanted to break well out of there and get a good position. Like Michael said, I just wanted him to get in a good rhythm, you know, going forward, I didn't want to get him stopped. I just wanted to get in a good rhythm that he feel comfortable where he was. He did everything really well behind the horses. Coming down the stretch, tell you the truth, it was my intention to come in there, but when the other horse came over in the quarter pole and went out next to me, I think Julien actually was on the horse. I said well, ‘This my opportunity to get on the rail.’ When he got close to Mike Smith, and I saw Mike put the whip left-handed, I said, well, this could be my chance. I rather stay here and wait for the hole to open and it just happened I got lucky. It was one of those things that opened up when it did, and I have to say that the horse did it all. I mean, at first the hole was pretty tight. I engaged him to get into the hole and at first I said I don't know if it's going to open up. I can anticipate it was going to open up and he took it. And once he took it, he put a good fight. I mean, you got to give it all to the horse.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, I want to remind people listening upstairs in the press box they can ask a question by going to the center of the room there and Joe will relay it down to us. Meanwhile, we're happy to take questions here and I'll repeat the question for the benefit of the many people who are listening to this from elsewhere. Yes, you can start.
Q. Michael, as you're watching the race. Are you thinking he's got going to get the chance, just take us through what you're thinking as you're coming down the stretch?
THE MODERATOR: The question is for Michael, what are you thinking coming down the stretch, are you worried he wouldn't get through or he wouldn't get there?
MICHAEL MATZ: It didn't look like he was going to get through and, you know, yeah, I was worried. But like I say, he got him through there and he's a strong enough rider to make it happen, and that's really what we need. He's a big horse. It's not like he should have been pushed around. So, it was just the fact that, you know, a mile and a half is an unknown distance, if we're going to get there, we're not going to get there. Luckily, with the ride Johnny gave him, and the horse being as game as he was, they both got the job done.
THE MODERATOR: For John, this is the second year in a row you picked up a Triple Crown mount late and scored with it, can you talk about that good fortune?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: I don't know, I guess I'm the lucky one. I guess that's the only way to describe it. I guess what is meant to be for you is meant to be for you. I have to say that this horse, we've been looking at this horse for a long time. This winter I even talk, Javier is riding a couple of horses which looked really good at the beginning of the year, and I said, ‘Well, if we can get on Union Rags, it would be perfect. I think that would be the horse of the future. And we talked about it a lot. The only problem that we did have is we had a commitment to Animal Kingdom and he came back and he won, the whole thing was set that he was going to go to Dubai. So I just had a conversation with Michael. He said, I can't lie to you, I'm going to be riding Animal Kingdom in Dubai. So I can't give you a commitment for the three races. So going back to the question, I mean, we've been being looking for a long time if the opportunity would come up for me to ride the horse, I guess it worked out good for me today.
Q. Michael, you had said all along you were hoping just get a clean trip. Does this kind of indicate what you thought he could do, if he could get that clean trip?
MICHAEL MATZ: I think he showed a lot of gameness today and, yes, believe me, it's sure a lot nicer walking back after the races here than it was in the Kentucky Derby, I'll tell you that.
THE MODERATOR: Michael, how would you compare how Union Rags came up to the Belmont relative to how he came up to the Derby or any of those other races this year? Better?
MICHAEL MATZ: He came up to both races very, very good. He couldn't have trained better going into the Derby. He was good all down in Florida. He's a very easy horse to train. He likes to go out in the morning and gallop and he'll give you whatever he has.
Q. Michael, there's a lot of talk the horse wasn't bred to go this kind of distance. What encouraged you to do it? Do you feel vindication in doing it?
MICHAEL MATZ: Well, I talked it over with Peter, my assistant, and we talked over. And the second dam, of course, and she was by Nijinsky, so there's some distance right there. I know Dixie Unions have not gone more than a mile and an eighth, but the way he trained and as big as he is and his stride, we just felt that we were in the same boat as all the other horses. They didn't know they could get a mile and a half either.
Q. Mrs. Wyeth talked about buying the horse, obviously had a special feeling for it; can you tell us about that relationship and your relationship with her?
MICHAEL MATZ: That was her doing it all by herself. I had nothing to do with it. And the only thing I found out is that after she sent Russell Jones to the sales, he handed me a yellow slip and said Phyllis wants you to train him. I've had horses for Phyllis before, not obviously as good as this one. She always said I'm going to have a good one one of these days, so I think she kept her promise.
Q. Michael, another question from the press box, given the --
THE MODERATOR: Given what happened in the Derby, this is from upstairs, bad trip, have you allowed yourself to play any what-if games in your mind? What if he had gotten a clear run in the Derby? Have you allowed yourself to think about what today could have meant as opposed --
MICHAEL MATZ: We always thought this horse had Triple Crown potential when we trained him. We gave him four races as a two-year-old and we gave him a rest and we had a good plan. He never missed a beat. And his first race was, couldn't have been any easier. He got in trouble the second race and the third race, so, I mean, I do really think that this horse, when he has a clean trip and can show himself, he is one of the best three-year-olds of this crop. And whether he could have done something against I'll Have Another, I don't know, but it sure would have been fun to see.
Q. Johnny, when I talked to you last weekend you finished that 59 flat workout and your eyes got really big. Did you know something you could say more about now?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: I was very impressed the way he did it. Talking to Michael pulling up, the first thing I said, man, he's pretty strong. So he did it so easy, I loved the way he handled everything, the way he handled himself, the way when I asked him to do something, he was a little bit stronger than I wanted to, but when I pulled him out and he didn't kind of run up right away, he just kind of did it gradually. That's what I did like when I completely let up the hold that I was holding him with. He went gradually and passed the horse right away he went to eight and still went 59 and change or 58 and two whichever you ask. So he did it very easy and galloped really, really well. That I was very impressed that way he did it. The gallop, that's what I did like the most.
THE MODERATOR: I have two questions from the press box. First for Michael. Can you get housekeeping out of the way and tell us what your immediate plans are for the horse? How long you and the horse will be around, when you head back to Fair Hill, that type of thing.
MICHAEL MATZ: I think if he cools out good right now in the next couple of hours, if we feel good enough, the traffic dies down, either we're going to leave early tomorrow morning or late tonight. I think sort of doesn't make a difference one way or the other. He's going to be turned out in his paddock tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon he loves to go out in the paddock, and I think as soon as we can let the traffic die down, whether it's late this evening or early tomorrow morning, that's when we'll go home.
THE MODERATOR: Do you have any later season targets in mind.?
MICHAEL MATZ: Not at this point.
THE MODERATOR: Another question for both of you from the press box upstairs. A lot of people, obviously, made plans to come to the Belmont hoping to get caught up in the I'll Have Another excitement, maybe see a Triple Crown. Do you think those people who came under those pretenses will leave today happy and excited by what they saw with Union Rags.
MICHAEL MATZ: Well, I thought it was pretty exciting.
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Me, too, Listen, even when he was not in the race, but I thought this was a very salty race. It was a very good race, very competitive race. I mean, even if he was in the race, we don't know if he was going to win the race, we don't know he's going to handle the mile and a half. Was he ready for it? Obviously, he ended up getting hurt, but I thought it was a very exciting race at the end, the public should be happy with it. I thank the media and everybody who actually came in and put the race out there. I think it was unbelievable race. What do you think?
Q. That answer was close to my question, did the lack of I'll Have Another in this race change anything for the way you ran the race?
MICHAEL MATZ: I think Johnny was going to ride his race. I didn't tell him anything. He told me, and like I said, I've never ridden a race in my life.
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Listen, I think I can answer that question. I think I'll Have Another was going to be close to the pace. With the two horses to follow, whether I was going to follow I'll Have Another or Mike Smith's horse, that was my plan. My only concern was not to do too much with him the first part of the race, I wouldn't have enough to fight Dullahan. I was concerned about Dullahan. Especially the way he finished in the Derby. Obviously he didn't show up today, but those were the two horses I was watching. I guess I was right, I mean Mike Smith's ran right to the wire. That was my plan. I just wanted to get a good rhythm with him, like I said before. And then watching out for those two horses. The other horse wasn't there, made it easy for me a little easier for me to watch out for the one in front. It worked out for me.
Q. Considering the strong drilling you had a week before the derby, did you consider getting him a drill on this surface before the Belmont?
MICHAEL MATZ: No, we didn't feel it was necessary. He's run here before in the Champagne, and the track, I think, is maybe not as deep as Fair Hill, but he didn't have any problems in the Champagne that day. We just were appreciative that Johnny came down and sat on him so he would get a little feel.
Q. John, you had ridden him, but you had never ridden him in a race before, what were you feeling when you were waiting for a hole to open --
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: I think it's more instinct. You expect, when you do this many times, you're expecting something is going to happen. If it happens, it's brilliant. If it doesn't happen, you're a bum, basically. I was expecting it was going to happen, because the other horse blew out on the outside of Mike, Mike put him to the whip left-handed, he’d have to drift around to go to the next horse. It just happened that it worked out the way I thought it was going to do, and I looked like a genius, I guess, I don't know.
Q. But did you know you’d have enough horse?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: He gave me all intentions he was going to get through. At that point, I still haven't really gotten after him 100 percent. Obviously, I was just keeping him busy, keeping just his mind in case it didn't open, I was going the wheel out. Actually, the other horse got really close to me and when he got close to me, I made the decision, he's going to come out. He's going to hit left-handed, he's going to have to come out. That was my choice, I engaged my horse to get into the spot. The spot was not open yet. I had to have him ready for it. When the hole opened up a little bit, he got through. Once he got through, once he got through, he put a good fight. I was very proud of him the way he did it. I took a chance, a shot, if you will, he did it for me. You have to give it all to the horse. I tried to do something, and it worked out good for me. The horse did help me when I needed him to.
Q. On that same subject, the way you got into him with your right hand, did the way you were whipping have anything to do with helping create that space?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: That's the way we do it. You try to anticipate something's going to happen, and when Mike hit the first time left-handed, I went for the whip right-handed thinking that he's going to drift enough for me to get in there. Once I hit him, he anticipated, the hole opened up, the daylight came up, he took it right away. It took him a little bit, once he got into the hole, took him a little bit to pass the other horse. I think he was anticipating the other horse was going to come over a little bit. But once I kept on him, he actually took it very well, galloped very good, too. I was very proud of him. I am very proud of him I'll tell you.
Q. Johnny, have you spoken to Mario Gutierrez after the race, and if so what did he say?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: No, no, I didn't see him after the race, obviously. I see him actually, I talked to him yesterday. Obviously we knew about the loss of his mount in the Belmont, and everybody was very sorry for him. I mean, I'm been in the same position many times, I've been lucky I found another mount in the race. But, you know, we were very sorry that he lost his mount in there, yeah.
THE MODERATOR: Mike Smith after the race, John, has been critical of his own ride for leaving the rail open for you; do you have any comment on Mike's ride?
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: You know, I probably would have done the same thing. You feel the horse coming to the outside, I take it big, it's nobody behind me. I have to take a chance, you have to -- he did not know I was coming in there, that's for sure. We all do it. You know, and he's so professional, he's going to be very critical of himself. At the same time, he doesn't know I was going to get through. I was right behind. He cannot see me. The only horse he can see is the horse coming in on his outside, and that was my chance. We all do it, and sometime it works for you, sometimes it doesn't. It just happened to work for me today.
Q. Michael how does this compare to Barbaro's win at the Derby and John how does this compare to '07 with Rags to Riches?
MICHAEL MATZ: They're both great. It's hard to compare to things like that. I mean, obviously, Barbaro was a great horse and to win your first Triple Crown race, it couldn't have been more fulfilling, and then to come back with a horse like this, I mean, win the Belmont. The Preakness has just been hard on me, I don't know. No, I feel very fortunate to have two horses like this. We did think that this horse in the beginning of the year could be a horse that possibly could do the Triple Crown races, and we just got sidetracked a little bit.
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Me, I think they're both very close. Especially the way they both won the race. So, you can't separate either or. I think both of the horses run incredibly, you couldn't ask for anything better for them to do. It's very close. They would be very close in my heart. That's for sure.
Q. Possible if at some point to ask a question in Spanish to John.
THE MODERATOR: John Velazquez. Great ride on Union Rags, thanks for telling us all about it and spending time.
JOHN VELAZQUEZ: Thank you.