I'll Have Another Bucking Trends in Belmont

When I'll Have Another attempts to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in racing history June 9 in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), he will be bucking more than the 34-year gap since the last one.

None of the previous horses with a chance to join the select group have had to deal with the sort of scrutiny or opposition that I'll Have Another has so far endured.

The media circus, of course, was to be expected as racing closes in on a possible date with destiny. Hundreds of reporters and photographers have been on the Belmont Park grounds in the week leading up to the race. The anticipation only seems to intensify with each failed attempt to follow Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner, into the record book. Trainer Doug O'Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez at times appear to be under siege and I'll Have Another must surely wonder what all the commotion is about.

O'Neill, friendly and accommodating with reporters, seems to be taking things in stride. But what about the 25-year-old Gutierrez, a native of Mexico who has never experienced anything close to this sort of fish bowl? One cannot help but think of Ron Franklin, the young jockey whose ride aboard Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Belmont was blamed for costing the sleek gray the Triple Crown.

"I can't tell you the amount of pressure that's on a young jockey or even an experienced jockey," said Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, who will be part of NBC's broadcast crew. "And with Mario being 25 years old and the success he's had at the many different racetracks he's competed at in a brief career, I have all the confidence in the world that he can pull it off--if everything goes right."

New York racing officials have also weighed in. First they banned O'Neill's use of a nasal strip to assist I'll Have Another's breathing, authorities saying they couldn't properly monitor the piece of equipment.

Then, as New York media pressed in on O'Neill's past infractions for medication miscues in California, for the first time they established a stakes barn for all the contestants in the 144th renewal of the Belmont Stakes. I'll Have Another, like the rest, was moved June 6 from the surroundings he had grown accustomed to since arriving at Belmont the day after winning the May 19 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) into a new environment surrounded by strangers. Security for everything has been maximized.

O'Neill has attempted to shrug it off, saying he doesn't feel singled out by the detention barn. But none of the trainers in this year's race seem very happy with the new wrinkle, several saying it was poorly conceived and executed.

I'll Have Another will tackle 11 opponents in the Belmont, the largest number that any Triple Crown winner has had to face.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas noted that none of Calumet Farm's Triple Crown champions had to beat as many horses as I'll Have Another in the Belmont, and the same was true for Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. If I'll have Another wins the Triple Crown, he will have beaten 40 rivals in the three races, a record number.

And then there are the historical precedents. No horse based in California as a 2-year-old has won the Triple Crown. No Mexican jockey is among the winning riders. And I'll Have Another's connections, from the O'Neill team to owners Paul Reddam and wife Zillah, have ever had anything close to this experience.

I'll Have Another is also the odds-on morning line pick for the Belmont. In seven prior races, the usually overlooked chestnut son of Flower Alley has never been favored even though he has won five times.

"There are no shortage of obstacles facing I'll Have Another," said NBC commentator Randy Moss. "But clearly if he holds form and he runs the race in the Belmont that we ran in the Preakness Stakes, it's his race to lose."

With so much possibly working against him in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, it's important to remember everything I'll Have Another has done right during a four-for-four 2012 season.

The $11,000 yearling that Reddam paid $35,000 for as a 2-year-old was mostly obscure during a juvenile campaign highlighted by a runner-up finish in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar. In his first race as a sophomore, I'll Have Another went off at odds of 43-1 in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 4, yet was able to stalk the leader and pull away in the stretch easily for a 2 3/4-length victory at Santa Anita Park.

O'Neill waited two months before giving I'll Have Another his next race, the April 7 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) at nine furlongs. I'll Have Another responded with his usual stalking trip, rallying from third in the stretch to outlast a valiant Creative Cause by a nose in a terrific finish.

That set up I'll Have Another well for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 5, in which he became the first to win from the number 19 post in a field of 20 at Churchill Downs. I'll Have Another was farther back than in any of his other races this year and rallied from seventh to get up by 1 1/2 lengths over the favored Bodemeister.

The stage was set for their rematch in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Racecourse two weeks later. Once more, the front-running Bodemeister was fantastic, but he wasn't good enough to stop I'll Have Another, who made up three lengths in the final furlong to win by a neck in a heart-pounding finish. I'll Have Another received a career-best 109 Beyer speed figure for the Preakness win at 1 3/16 miles.

I'll Have Another drew the 11 post for the Belmont, a spot of good fortune as far as O'Neill is concerned.

"Being in the 11 hole, we're able to kind of see how the pace sets up," he said. "If they're crawling, we'll hopefully be leading the crawl, and if they're flying, we'll be sitting in behind the horses flying."

About the Author

Jack Shinar

Jack Shinar is a frequent contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine and is part of their Digital Media department.

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