By Tony Bada Bing
Lovers, haters, cynics or true-believers.
As we inch closer to the 2012 Belmont Stakes,
fans, followers and betters fall into one of the four camps listed above.
You’re either going all in for or
against I’ll Have Another. Emotion rules in believing or betting against the
twelfth Thoroughbred to enter the Belmont starting gate with the chance to
become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
Maybe you’re high on horses coming from the West Coast.
Maybe you hate I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill for his multiple drug
violations. Maybe you cashed four consecutive times with I’ll Have Another
starting at 43-1 in the Robert Lewis Stakes. Maybe you think I’ll Have Another
has worked too hard, too long and will come up empty on June 9.
I don’t fall into any of the above descriptions. I have been
a skeptic of I’ll Have Another, and as such I have doubted his greatness. In
the Lewis Stakes and Santa Anita Derby, I thought he benefited from dream trips
following fast fractions from horses that couldn’t hold up. In the Kentucky
Derby I thought he found himself a dream trip as Gemologist veered hard to the
left coming out of the 15-post leaving a nice pocket for jockey, Mario Gutierrez,
coming out of the 19-hole - another dream trip following the very fast
fractions of Bodemeister.
In the Preakness I thought I’ll Have Another would finally
fall back to earth having to race outside his comfort zone while chasing closer
than usual to Bodemeister’s lone speed. I was correct in envisioning I’ll Have
Another’s wide trip, but was wrong about his ability to win with such
adversity. Finally after I’ll Have Another jogged out after winning the second
jewel of the Triple Crown, I no longer doubted, but began to believe that I’ll
Have Another was benefiting from something more than racing luck.
Today I am here to tell you that I’ll Have Another will
definitely win the Belmont Stakes, becoming just the 12th Triple
Crown winner. Here are the five reasons why:
5. The second best horse and greatest competition is on the
Bodemeister, coming off just four lifetime starts, but with
tons of talent, would be sitting pretty on the eve of history if there were no
I’ll Have Another. The Bob Baffert-trainee reeled off extremely fast fractions
in the Derby and fell within the shadow of the Churchill wire of winning. In
Maryland, he put up fast/reasonable fractions and befell the same fate. As it
stands right now, he is the second-best three-year-old in training and he’s not
running next week.
4. The Belmont competition is weak.
This has been the case before with wins by Da’Tara and
Savara, long shots who finished in front of would-be champs, Big Brown and War
Emblem. You could also argue that those Triple Crown hopefuls weren’t as
strong, versatile or as well bred I’ll Have Another. In the 144th Belmont
Stakes the chief rivals are Union Rags, a horse that always finds trouble;
Dullahan, a zero-time winner on dirt; Paynter, a horse that qualifies for a
non-winners of two allowance and Street Life, a listed stakes winner. Really that’s
it. With competition like this I’m thinking all that Mario Gutierrez has to do
is stay on I’ll Have Another’s back.
On top and bottom, I’ll Have Another, has plenty of stamina
to make the 12-furlong trip. His daddy, Flower Alley, won the 10-furlong
Travers Stakes and finished second in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont
Park. Flower Alley was sired by Distorted Humor whose leading earners include
Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide and two-time Whitney winner, Commentator.
I’ll Have Another’s dam sire, Arch, won the 10-furlong Super Derby at three and
is the sire of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Blame. The distance is not a
2. The jockey
Bill Russell, the 11-time NBA champion, was asked during his
first NBA championship series, if he was experienced enough to win. His
response was, “Experience means shit, you can either do the job or you can’t.”
Mario Gutierrez has and will continue to do the job atop I’ll Have Another. His
Preakness ride was the picture of patience. He also put his horse into a more
forward position than usual while going wide all the way around the track. Then
he timed the finish perfectly getting up in plenty of time with the finish line
in sight. Patience + Confidence +
Well-Timed Ride = Win. He’ll do the same in the Belmont Stakes.
1. The trainer
Listen, I didn’t bet on I’ll Have Another in the Derby
because of the far post, and I didn’t think Doug O’Neill could win much outside
of his friendly Left Coast confines. I was also suspicious of his dozen or so
drug-related violations. The problem with my “Doug O’Neill problem” is that it
had nothing to do with I’ll Have Another’s success. Violations or not, O’Neill
is a good horseman. He consistently wins a tick or two under 20 percent. He
campaigned a former $50,000 claimer turned multimillionaire turned lead pony,
O’Neill has taken an unconventional and winning route to the
edge of Triple Crown success. In an era of three, four and five-furlong
maintenance works, O’Neill has worked his horse six furlongs to a mile in
preparation and throughout his Triple Crown try. He turned his horse out after
a disappointing stakes try at Saratoga last summer. He listened to his owner
and gave the horse another stakes try in the Lewis off a six-month layoff. He
stuck with an unknown jockey when a superstar like Garret Gomez was waiting in
the wings for Derby mount.
Let’s review - loyalty, listening and finding workouts to
match his horse not the other way around. Aren’t these all admiral attributes in
a horse trainer? I think so.
I’m giving you a Namath, an Ali. I’m guaranteeing a Belmont
win, a week in advance. I’ve given you the reasons why. I’ll be there recording
history for Horse Racing Nation. I also lay down my wagers and tweet the experience
at @tonycbadabing. Around 7 pm, I plan on tweeting, “I told you so.”