Today, March 3rd, is the birthday of the horse that changed my life.
Union Rags was the first racehorse I followed. I was eleven when he began his career and twelve when I discovered him. I had watched a handful of Derbies prior to 2012, but it was the first year that I had decided to research the potential starters prior to the race. His picture struck me immediately.
I watched every single one of his race replays on Youtube and felt as if I were watching them happening live. I was in awe watching him power down the stretch in the Champagne (G1) and devastated watching his short defeat to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
I followed him closely through his Facebook page in the months leading up to the Kentucky Derby. I wanted to see every picture of him, watch every video, and read every status. I drew pictures of him, colored his silks, and watched his race replays over and over again. I told everyone in my family that he was going to win the Kentucky Derby and I truly, deeply believed it.
I remember my intense nerves on Derby day. I was glued to the TV, thrilled to catch any glimpse of him. Despite my adamancy that he was going to have a blanket of roses on his back, Union Rags did not cross the finish line in first. I was heartbroken.
Nevertheless, I was persistent in my belief in him. When it was announced that he would be going to the Belmont Stakes, I doubled down and said this would be the time that he would be in the winner’s circle. In my mind, there was no way he could be beaten. I didn’t even care that there could be a Triple Crown on the line after the Derby winner I’ll Have Another captured the Preakness Stakes.
The 2012 Belmont Stakes was a race I will never, ever forget. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding when Union Rags loaded into the starting gate. I remember him on the rail at the top of the stretch. It seemed like there wouldn’t even be room for him to get through. I was screaming and cheering, begging him to get to the front. My adrenaline was unbelievable. I had never felt like that before while watching a race.
I still get chills when I hear the call: “And here comes Union Rags unleashing a final, furious rally to….”
Tom Durkin paused his call for a moment to watch as Union Rags slowly forced his head in front of Paynter. “...WIN the Belmont Stakes by a nose over Paynter.”
I felt unstoppable. I couldn’t stop shaking for what felt like forever after the race. I was right - my horse had done it, just as I always believed he could.
Union Rags is the reason I still love horse racing as I do today. Though I had been interested and watching for years before him, I had never felt the way I felt about a horse or a race before him. Never had I believed in a horse so deeply. Never had I felt so excited and happy as I did watching him win the Belmont Stakes.
He’s probably the reason I still look for my next favorite horse each year in the Champagne - in fact, I remember seeing Tiz the Law’s white face at the top of the stretch in the 2019 Champagne and all of my memories of Union Rags came flooding back. Of course, he was then my Kentucky Derby pick and I was thrilled when he won the Belmont just like my favorite horse. And yes, this year I will be watching Blazing Sevens.
I was able to take a tour of his home Lane’s End Farm in 2019, seven years after Union Rags won the Belmont. I stood at his stall for a long while and just looked at him, reminiscing on what he had done for me. I long for the day that I will get the opportunity to see him again. To me, he is a reminder of why I love this sport so much.
Happy Birthday, Union Rags.
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