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Union Rags wins 144th Belmont Stakes

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Photo gallery

1/18
Jockey John Velazquez helps Belmont winner Union Rags cool down with a damp cloth.
2/18
Trainer Michael Matz (l.) and jockey John Velazquez hoist the trophy after Velazquez rode Union Rags to victory in the Belmont Stakes. Photo by Christina Santucci
3/18
Mary Lawlor from Virginia sports a hat with feathers.
4/18
Honey Subratie from Long Island wears a birdcage.
5/18
Lindsay Hall wears a unicorn on her hat. Photo by Christina Santucci
6/18
Tom Kucheta attends the race with his wife Michelle.
7/18
Spectators mill about after the race.
8/18
A woman carries a poster for I'll Have Another.
9/18
Molly Blume said it took about 25 minutes to complete her hat.
10/18
Paynter and jockey Mike Smith (front r.) surge to the lead out of the gate.
11/18
Diane Buitrago from Franklin Square wears a decorated hat.
12/18
A group from Washington, D.C., wears sombreros to Belmont. They attended the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
13/18
Josh King from Los Angeles wears an inflated horse on his shoulder.
14/18
Bulgers Sam Grossman (l.) and Ryan Resky announce the start of a race Saturday. Photo by Christina Santucci
15/18
Fans cheer for horses during an earlier race at Belmont.
16/18
I’ll Have Another is led to the winner’s circle for its retirement ceremony. Photo by Christina Santucci
17/18
Jockey Mario Gutierrez sits on I'll Have Another as the horse is retired during a brief ceremony in the winner's circle at Belmont. Photo by Christina Santucci
18/18
Jockey John Velazquez (r.) rides Union Rags past Paynter and jockey Mike Smith (c.) to the finish line for victory in the Belmont Stakes. Jockey Julien Leparoux (l.) rides Atigun for third place. Photo by Christina Santucci

It took Union Rags just over 2 minutes 30 seconds to win the Belmont Stakes, but for both aficionados and casual race fans alike, the 144th edition of the “Test of the Champion” provided an entire day’s worth of spectacle.

More than 85,000 spectators made the trek out to Elmont, L.I., Saturday, filling Belmont Park from the backyard picnic area to the grandstands. At least 100,000 attendees were expected for the Triple Crown before I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the race.

At 5-2 odds, Union Rags returned $7.50 for win, $4.20 for place and $3.50 for show on a $2 bet.

The day was not entirely about racing, though.

Molly Boyle, 25, made the trip from Portland, Ore., to visit a group of friends who arrived by chartered bus. “We planned to dress up and enjoy the sunshine,” she said, draped in a white dress with blue polka dots and topped with a floppy purple hat.

Cody, a Brooklyn resident who keeps his eye on Queens politics, said it was unfortunate he would not get the chance to see I’ll Have Another attempt to complete the Triple Crown, but it did not dampen his spirits.

“I wore my brand-new, Triple-Crown white Cole Haans,” he explained, later adding he was hopeful City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) would be successful in her congressional bid. “I think it’s going to be a great race, even better than today’s.”

Once inside the stadium, the atmosphere buzzed, climbing to a peak with each race that went by.

Howie, from Whitestone, who appeared to be a serious bettor, said he did think I’ll Have Another was going to win the Stakes anyway. Instead, he was putting his money on Union Rags.

“He likes this track. He raced it last year,” he said brusquely as he peered up toward a television monitor watching the ninth race, with apparently little patience for an inquiring reporter.

The frenzied hum of the stadium gave way to a relaxed atmosphere at the clubhouse level.

Joseph Courtesis, the commanding officer of the 105th Precinct, traded his uniform for a tan striped suit on his day off and recalled trips to Belmont with his father.

“It’s a special event,” he said as he checked his BlackBerry. “My guys are working outside, so they’re kind of getting a freebie out of me.”

As the marquee race arrived, all eyes were locked on the horses as they left the gate, and the roar climbed steadily with the announcer’s voice as Union Rags edged out Paynter through a thin space along the rail to take the lead and win the Stakes.

Nick Fittano enjoyed a cigar outside after the race. He said he was “down a few,” but had an incomparable experience nonetheless.

“This is New York. This is the big time,” he said. “Besides, it’s the most behaved 80,000 people you’ll ever see.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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