Yesterday, I thought there were five horses that represented legitimate chances to upset I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid ... now there are four.
The news came rolling in early this morning; Alpha would not run in the 2012 Belmont Stakes after spiking a fever this week. The unfortunate announcement raises I’ll Have Another’s chances of becoming a Triple Crown winner a little bit higher than they were yesterday.
Provided that I’ll Have Another handles all the rigors waiting for him at Big Sandy reasonably well, and runs a race near to his ability, I now only see Union Rags, Dullahan, Paynter, and Street Life as viable threats to spoil racing’s celebration.
I’ll Have Another has already beaten Dullahan and Union Rags. He proved better than both on the first Saturday on May. Both horses have been freshened since, while I’ll Have Another was running a gut-buster at Pimlico, and both horses ran well enough in Kentucky to believe that they still could be in the class of the favorite. Dullahan possesses a strong closing kick that has allowed him to be the only other 3yo colt with a pair of grade one wins to his credit. Union Rags had no chance in the Derby after the first twenty yards, has long been considered near the top of this foal crop, and already has run huge at Belmont Park. If either of them finish up full of run on Saturday, I’ll Have Another’s quest may come to an end.
Paynter and Street Life represent the X-factors in the Belmont. I wrote before the Preakness that none of the new shooters had a chance in that race, but I consider both Paynter and Street Life to be better than that bunch. Both colts are lightly raced and are coming into the Belmont the right way. Paynter, from the same connections of Bodemeister, has plenty of speed to force the early pace issue in the final leg of the Triple Crown. He used that speed to dominate an allowance field on the Preakness undercard impressively. 12 furlongs is probably a stretch at this point in his career, but I have little doubt that the talent is there. Street Life meanwhile, boasts a potent stretch kick, as seen with his strong rally when third last time in the Peter Pan Stakes. He may very well not be fast enough against the likes of I’ll Have Another, but if there are a bunch of tired horses after ten furlongs, Street Life may look like a star late.
Now of course, there is always the chance that I’ll Have Another lays a massive egg on June 9. It happened to War Emblem and Big Brown after all, in races won by lightweights Sarava and Da Tara, but more often than not, the horse who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness comes to New York and at least makes their presence known and fires a shot at immortality. Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones are all good examples of this. The Belmont Stakes may not have been their best races, but they all provided competition for the good horse that ultimately won the mile-and-a-half challenge.
The rest of this year’s Belmont Stakes field seems pretty weak, with Atigun being the only one I can really put on my, “could possibly pull of a shocker” list. I like his last race at Churchill Downs, but judging from his performances in graded stakes previously, it would be a big stretch to imagine him in the winner’s circle on Saturday evening. I have seen many talking about the other McPeek entrant, Unstoppable U, but with only a couple of one-turn races so far on his career resume, he would need to be Superman to win the Belmont. I’m pretty sure, Superman he isn’t. So who else is there? Optimizer is a turf horse. Ravelo’s Boy, Guyana Star Dweej, and Five Sixteen would not seem to belong in a grade one race.
So with Alpha out, it is Union Rags, Dullahan, Paynter, and Street Life standing between I’ll Have Another and Triple Crown glory. That’s it … that’s the list.
If one of the four runs a huge race next Saturday, and sends more than a hundred thousand fans home unhappy, so be it. All we can ask is that the brave little I’ll Have Another runs his race, because if he does, we all know he is pretty tough to beat.