ELMONT, N.Y. — Waiting … waiting … waiting.Riding Union Rags down the Belmont Park stretch in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, jockey John Velazquez was looking for running room. GARRY JONES / THE ASSOCIATED PRESSUnion Rags runs past Paynter to win the 144th Belmont Stakes on Saturday.Paynter, who had led from the start, was in front of Union Rags and not far off the rail as the horses approached the sixteenth pole. There wasn’t much room for a horse, especially a big one like Union Rags.Then, at about the sixteenth pole, came an opportunity. When jockey Mike Smith hit Paynter left-handed, he moved a tad farther off the rail. Velazquez immediately reacted, hitting Union Rags right-handed, and he moved a tad closer to the rail. The space between the two horses had increased, not by much, but by enough to make room for Union Rags.He did the rest, driving along the inside and running down Paynter to win the Belmont by a neck. Atitgun finished third.“I waited for the hole to open up, and I got lucky,’’ Velazquez said. “The horse did it all. At first, the hole was pretty tight. I engaged him to get into the hole. I didn’t know it was going up. I anticipated it was going to open up, and he took it. Once he did, he put up a good fight. I was very impressed by the way he did it.’’Smith, a Hall of Famer, blamed himself for Paynter’s loss. “He ran tremendous,’’ Smith said. “I’m such a perfectionist. (Union Rags) just shouldn’t have gotten through on me. I’d like to see what the outcome would have been if he wouldn’t have.’’Said Velazquez, who will be entering the Hall in August: “He did not know I was coming in there, that’s for sure,’’ Velazquez said. “We all do it. … 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. … We all do it. Sometimes it works for you. Sometimes it doesn’t. It just happened to work for for me today.’’A crowd of 85,811 was the sixth-largest in Belmont Park history, but short of the 100,000-plus crowd that New York Racing Association officials were anticipating when I’ll Have Another was expected to make a Triple Crown bid in the race. With him scratched with an injured tendon, the victory went to the colt who began the year as the Kentucky Derby favorite.But Union Rags finished seventh in the Derby, making a solid late run after having a rough trip. He had been caught in tight traffic before finishing third in the Florida Derby in his final Kentucky Derby prep.After the Kentucky Derby, trainer Michael Matz decided to replace jockey Julien Leparoux with Velazquez.“Well, I thought he rode a brilliant race today. And whether he got there or didn’t, he still rode a great race,’’ Matz said. “He got the horse away from the gate cleanly, got settled into stride, wherever he was.’’Union Rags, who ran the mile and half in 2:30.42, raced along the rail most of the way. He settled in fifth place early, not far off off pace-setter Paynter. Paynter raced in front until the final few strides. He controlled a slow pace, running the first half-mile in 49.23 seconds, six furlongs in 1:14.72 and the mile in 1:38.35.After shaking off a few challenges along the way, he put away Atigun in the stretch. But Union Rags was lurking.“I think he showed a lot of gameness today,’’ said Matz, who trains Union Rags for Phyllis Wyeth’s Chadds Ford Stable. “And yes, believe me, it’s sure a lot nicer walking back after the races here than it was in the Kentucky Derby — I tell you that.’’For trainer Bob Baffert, Smith and owner Ahmed Zayat, the Belmont capped a run of close losses in this Triple Crown series. In the Derby and Preakness, they lost with Bodemeister, who finished 1 ½ lengths behind I’ll Have Another at Churchill Downs and a neck behind him at Pimlico.Paynter took Bodemeister’s place at Belmont Park — and his place as a runner-up. “Is there a Triple Crown for seconds?’’ Baffert asked. “I need a Triple Crown for seconds. I really thought he was going to win today. He was doing so well. I just feel bad for Mr. Zayat. The poor guy, he’s been tortured on this Triple Crown. …“(Smith) will probably take a lot of heat. It’s a jockey thing. He didn’t want to give up the rail. But you know what? He did a tremendous job. The outside horse (Atigun) had that horse (Union Rags) trapped. Johnny, you have to give him credit. He was patient, and he just waited.’’Zayat said: “Heart-breaking defeat, a heart-breaking defeat. He ran his guts out. It’s just his fourth race.’’Atigun, a long shot, finished 1 ¾ lengths behind Paynter and more than five lengths clear of the rest of the field. “He ran super,’’ said Ken McPeek, Atigun’s trainer. “He’s just maturing. He’s figured it out.’’Dullahan, the favorite, finished seventh. “It’s very disappointing,’’ said his trainer, Dale Romans. “This is our eighth or ninth Triple Crown race in a row, and I’ve felt good about all of them, so they’re all disappointing. But this one, going off the favorite, it’s the first time we ever done that, and I thought he was a justified favorite, and he was going to show it here.’’Union Rags, who paid $7.50 to win, was the second choice in the betting.“I do really think that this horse, when he has a clean trip and can show himself, is one of the best 3-year-olds in this crop,’’ Matz said. “Whether he could have done something against I’ll Have Another, I don’t know, but it sure would have been fun to see.’’•••••••Bob Fortus can be reached at or 504.826.3408.