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Jul 13, 2012

Up the Backstretch: One star leaves, another returns

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - One of the great things about horse racing is that there are two groups of stars in the sport. The first group is for the horses that run the races, the second consists of the humans who care for the horses, train and ride.

This week, one from each of these categories began another phase of their careers.

Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags has been taken off the racing circuit, for at least this year, with an injured leg. The 3-year-old colt was found to have a tendon injury.

He's the second big time 3-year-old to suffer a tendon injury this year. The day before the Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ I'll Have Another was scratched from the third leg of the Triple Crown with tendinitis and quickly retired.

The racing career of Union Rags hasn't been decided, but most likely he won't be racing for a while. Some reason thoroughbreds are worth a whole lot more money once they are retired even though the sport is not enjoying boom times right now. But that's a different story.

The good news is that Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez is nearing a return to riding. He will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame on Aug. 10 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Velazquez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, is coming back from a broken collarbone and trauma to his kidney suffered on June 16 after the horse he was riding in the ninth race at Churchill Downs broke down.

He announced on Tuesday that he's progressing in his recovery and hopes to begin exercising horses in about a week. Dr. Stephen O'Brien, of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, gave Velazquez the OK to start exercising horses next Monday at Saratoga.

"I saw Dr. O'Brien today, and he said I was healing very well," Velazquez said Tuesday. "Hopefully, it won't be too much longer before I can race again, but I want to make sure I'm strong enough to compete before I get back to riding."

It so happens that Velazquez guided Union Rags to victory in the Belmont Stakes in a truly exciting stretch run. The colt found room along the rail to catch and pass front-runner Paynter. Just a week later, Velazquez was sidelined with injuries.

Covering horse racing is doubly interesting for the fact that there are the horses that run the races and their human handlers who make the decisions. It's never really boring when it comes to racing, either the animals make the headlines or the people do.

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