I’ll Have Another will go one more round
Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park as he attempts to add the 144th
running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes to his dramatic victories in
the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and end a record 34-year Triple Crown drought.
A victory in the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” (post time
6:40 p.m., NBC 4:30- 7 p.m.) would make I’ll Have Another racing’s
12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed outfinished
Alydar back in 1978. Since then, 11 horses have stepped into the starting gate
for the Belmont
with a chance to sweep the series, and all have come up short, most recently
Big Brown in 2008.
For the first time in his career, I’ll Have Another will take on
the favorite’s role as he faces 11 other 3-year-olds vying to play the
role of Triple Crown spoiler. The handsome chestnut colt, undefeated in four
starts this year, was made the 4-5 choice on the morning line by Eric Donovan,
oddsmaker for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA).
“Every race, the expectations get a little higher when you
succeed, so that’s a good place to be,” said Doug O’Neill of
Saturday, I’ll Have Another will leave from post position 11,
which since 1905 has produced two Belmont
winners – Sarava, whose victory at 70-1 came at the expense of Triple
Crown hopeful War Emblem in 2002, and Conquistador Cielo, who was the first of
trainer Woody Stephens’ five straight Belmont winners in 1982. In the Kentucky
Derby, I’ll Have Another became the first horse to win the Run for the
Roses from post 19 at Churchill Downs, and in the Preakness he left from post
position 9 in an 11-horse field.
“We’ve been toward the outside in the other two Triple
Crown races, so it’s a good spot to be in,” said O’Neill.
Aboard I’ll Have Another as he attempts to make racing history
will be jockey Mario Gutierrez, who will be riding in his first Belmont Stakes.
The 25-year-old, who spent most of his career at tiny Hastings Park in
Vancouver, Canada, piloted I’ll Have Another for the first time for their
43-1 upset in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, and has since drawn rave
reviews for his confident rides in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and the first
two legs of the Triple Crown.
“He just has so much confidence in the horse,” said owner
J. Paul Reddam, who on the advice of O’Neill’s brother, Dennis,
purchased I’ll Have Another as a 2-year-old for $35,000 at the Ocala
I’ll Have Another will be facing the most opponents encountered
by a Triple Crown hopeful since Charismatic finished third in a field of 12 in
1999. Heading the challengers Saturday are a pair of Derby veterans who have
had five weeks to recover from the rigors of the race – Dullahan, who
finished third at Churchill Downs, and Union Rags, who was seventh.
Dullahan, who was made the morning-line second choice at 5-1, is the
only horse besides I’ll Have Another with more than one Grade 1 win,
having taken the 2011 Breeders’ Futurity and the 2012 Blue Grass. Both
races were over the synthetic surface at Keeneland Race Course, but the
half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird indicated his liking
for the Belmont Park main track with a bullet 45.97 breeze on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” said his
trainer, Dale Romans, who will give a leg up to Javier Castellano for the Belmont. “I want to
walk out of here with 120,000 people booing me.”
Owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, Dullahan drew post
After a brilliant 2-year-old campaign that included a victory in the
Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont
Park, and a four-length
victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth to kick off his 3-year-old season,
Union Rags’ connections were hoping it would be their colt who would be
taking a shot at the Triple Crown. But the Dixie Union colt had a terrible trip
in the Derby, where he was pinched back at the start, steadied on the first
turn and steadied again when a horse stopped in front of him, and the decision
was made the skip the Preakness to await the Belmont.
“I really thought this horse could win the Triple Crown, but
everything went the wrong way and we had to make a new plan,” said
Michael Matz, who trains Union Rags for Phyllis Wyeth’s Chadds Ford
Stable. “I think I’m trying to showcase my horse a bit. It was
unfortunate he didn’t have the opportunity in the Derby, for him, and his owner. She’s a
Union Rags, who drew post position 3, was listed at 6-1 on the morning
line for the Belmont,
in which he will be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez. A four-time
riding champion on the NYRA circuit, Velazquez won the 2007 Belmont aboard the filly Rags to Riches.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat, whose favored
Bodemeister was beaten by I’ll Have Another in the Derby and Preakness,
hope to turn the tables with the lightly raced but promising Paynter, who is
8-1 on the morning line.
The son of Awesome Again, a $325,000 yearling purchase, is 2-1-0 from
four starts, with a maiden and allowance win bracketing a second in the Grade 3
Derby Trial and a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. Paynter earned a 106 Beyer
Speed Figure for his 5 ¾-length allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles on Preakness
day at Pimlico, highest among I’ll Have Another’s Belmont rivals.
“If you asked me personally, I always thought Bodemeister is a
very nice colt,” said Zayat. “Bob Baffert, [from] day 1, thought
Paynter was the better horse. He thinks he’s a really, really nice
Paynter, who drew post position 9, will be ridden by Mike Smith, winner
of the 2010 Belmont
Starting from the rail is Street Life, most recently third in the Grade
2 Peter Pan at Belmont
on May 12, in which he sported blinkers for the first time. Trained by Chad
Brown, the son of Street Sense has two victories in five starts, both coming
over Aqueduct Racetrack’s inner dirt course.
“He’s getting more mature. He’s getting sharper every
day I see him training out there, said Brown, who trains Street Life for
Magnolia Racing and Hidden Brook Farm. “I think that he’s going to
evolve into a more versatile horse, you’re going to see. Whether
it’s Saturday or not, I don’t know, but as he matures, he
Jose Lezcano will ride Street Life, 12-1 on the morning line.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will be trying for his fifth Belmont victory with 20-1 shot Optimizer, who will be the
only other horse besides I’ll Have Another to have run in all three legs
of the Triple Crown, having finished 11th in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness.
“My Belmont winners, I thought all of them, or even
the ones that were close, fit the course and fit the scenario of what the
competition could do or couldn't do,” said Lukas, who won the Belmont in
1999 with Commendable ($39.60), 1996 with Editor’s Note ($13.60), 1995
with Thunder Gulch ($5.00) and 1994 with Tabasco Cat ($8.00). “So it's
not a big stretch for us to run this horse.
“I think he’s a better fit [in
the Belmont than
the Kentucky Derby or Preakness], but I’m realistic. There’s better
horses in the race but the times that I have won it, there were better horses
in the race then, too. So, we’ll see. I think we’re a good
Corey Nakatani will ride Optimizer, 20-1 on the morning line, from post
Hoping to become the first owners to win back-to-back editions of the Belmont since Meadow
Stable won in 1972-1973 with Riva Ridge and Triple Crown champion Secretariat
are George and Lori Hall, who won last year’s running with Ruler On Ice
and are returning with My Adonis.
Most recently third in the Canonero II at Pimlico on May 5, My Adonis
was second in the Grade 3 Gotham to Hansen and third to Algorithms in the Grade
3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
“We think he’s got some class,
and even though some of his races were disappointing, we think he’s shown
enough talent that we can make a case that he belongs in the field,” said
George Hall. “Of course we have incredible memories of the Belmont, so just being in
the paddock will be a privilege. But, again, we wouldn’t do it just for
the sake of doing it if we didn’t think we had a horse with enough
At 20-1, My Adonis drew post position 12
under two-time defending Eclipse Champion jockey Ramon Dominguez.
Trainer Ken McPeek, who knows something
about stopping a Triple Crown hopeful, sends out the duo of Unstoppable U and
Atigun, both 30-1. In 2002, McPeek saddled Sarava to a 70-1 upset of the Belmont as Derby
and Preakness winner War Emblem went home empty-handed, finishing eighth.
“It was a good day,” recalled McPeek. “Nobody threw
any stones at me on the way out. It was fine; I’m a bit bullet-proof,
anyway. It was all positive. Not one negative comment from anybody. I think it
would have been one thing if we’d have beat him in a photo, but we
Atigun, recent winner of an optional claimer at Churchill Downs, drew
post position 4 under Julien Leparoux, while Unstoppable U, undefeated in two
starts, drew post position 2 with Junior Alvarado.
Rounding out the field are a trio of 50-1 shots: Ravelo’s Boy,
whose most recent start was a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby
on March 10; Five Sixteen, who will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik as she
attempts to join Julie Krone (1992, Colonial Affair) as the only woman to win a
Triple Crown race, and Guyana Star Dweej, second to Unstoppable U in an
optional claimer last time out.