To most horse racing fans, if I'll Have Another wins the 2012 Belmont Stakes, it will be another Triple Crown victory to add to their list of thrillers. Many of these fans had the privilege of watch champions such as Secretariat, Affirmed, and Seattle Slew romp to eternal glory. Now flash to me: a fifteen-year-old girl who has watched horse racing for all her life but never the greatest feat in all of sports: a Triple Crown.
People ask me all the time how I got so interested in horse racing. Normally I tell them it was the day Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes in 2003 because that's the clearest early memory I have. My family was watching the race in our living room. As we watched the horses pre-race, my parents looked enthusiastically at Funny Cide hoping he was in tip-top shape for the race despite the rain. I, on the other hand, saw Empire Maker, pointed at the stunning bay colt, and proclaimed, "He's my favorite!" My parents dismissed it with, "But Funny Cide could win the Triple Crown today! We need to root for him!" Sure enough, minutes later, my family was groaning. But somehow, as I sat in big couch in the corner, I grinned. The passion for horse racing had begun and there would be no turning back.
A year later, my family was hooked on Smarty Jones. It seemed everyone was. I guess for some reason much like with Funny Cide, I was a skeptic. Before that year's Belmont Stakes, I took one look at Birdstone, who for no apparent reason reminded me of the Black Stallion, and knew he was my pick. Sure, these first two picks were pretty much luck and pretty horses with big results, but I liked the feeling of picking a horse that no one else expected and winning.
And then began my Kentucky Derby streak. In 2005 Giacomo was my first successful Kentucky Derby pick. I was 8 years old, so my explanation is simple: he was pretty and his color was quite different from the rest. Barbaro was my next successful pick which wasn't as shocking seeing that he was the second favorite. The next year brought Street Sense (my personal favorite). In school I decorated my whole desk with pictures, drawings, and doodles related to Street Sense before the Derby, so there was no turning back on my pick. I'll never forget the look on my fifth grade teacher's face when I came back to school the following Monday grinning ear to ear having picked the winner. Big Brown was almost a given the next year: big, powerful colt with a stunning record. Mine that Bird in 2009 was perhaps my best pick in the Derby yet, and it was simply by eeny, meeny, miny, mo. 2010 ended my streak. I completely overlooked Super Saver thinking there was no way Calvin Borel would win it two years in a row: my mistake I suppose. Animal Kingdom restored my winning ways in the 2011 Derby. Graham Motion is a hard trainer to dislike, and I can't lie- I digged the silks. Don't let all this mislead you though, I followed more than just the Kentucky Derby. I followed racing religiously. Almost every weekend, I picked a track and got my picks for the day. I watched workouts, studied past performances, read about their trainers, and sometimes even flipped a coin or two. The highlight of my year was Kentucky Derby prep races though- it was always my goal to try to pick the winner out as soon as possible. Let's just say, it's a very good thing there is a minimum age for gambling (though I might have made some serious dough.)
Then, we come to the present with I'll Have Another. I won't lie- I fell pretty hard on the Hansen fan train. He was my pick for the Derby this year. I loved I'll Have Another's performance in the Santa Anita Derby, but I have this weird vendetta against California horses, so against common sense, I went with the pretty horse and never looked back. Come Preakness, I was on the I'll Have Another bandwagon again. I love his story. Let's face it, he's been overlooked and disrespected pretty much his entire career. He wasn't even the favorite in the Preakness. Personally, I love the underdogs (as well Underdog, but that's another story.)
So now what it would mean to me to see I'll Have Another edge out all competition on Saturday and win the Belmont. Quite frankly, it would mean everything to me. Most of my life has been consumed by a passion for a sport that none of my friends will ever understand or respect. I've spent countless hours which should have been spent studying trying to pick a winner or follow the Derby trail. I'll Have Another winning the Belmont Stakes would be (pardon the pun) the crowning moment of horse racing in my lifetime. It would be the achievement in a seemingly impossible feat, and what greater motivator can there be in life? Come Sunday, screaming my lungs out as I'll Have Another gallops for home will quite possibly be the most exciting moment in my life- I just hope gets his nose in front at the wire.
-- Sabrina, Liverpool, NY
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