The best thing the horse racing world could have possibly asked for leading up to the Belmont Stakes is for a horse like I'll Have Another to be gunning for the Triple Crown.
I'll Have Another, after his two unlikely victories in the Kentucky Derby and in the Preakness, is making horse racing relevant again—pretty good for a sport that barely registers on the public consciousness except when it comes to finding a hat to wear and betting on the horse with the coolest name.
Even if front-runner Bodemeister had won both events, fans—casual and voracious—would not have been this excited. When a favorite keeps winning, it gets stale fast. When an underdog keeps winning, it is exhilarating.
Now, those who normally tune out anything related to horse racing are paying attention to see if I'll Have Another can accomplish what no horse has been able to do since 1978 and win the Triple Crown with a victory at the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
People will actually be looking forward to the Belmont Stakes. They will be tuning in.
That is an accomplishment, too.
According to FoxNews.com, tickets for the Belmont—held at a track that seats 32,000 but can accommodate close to 100,000—sold out in three minutes on Monday morning. Tickets sold for $20 to $120 at face value and are now going for $130 to $1,000 on Stubhub.
Since 1978, 11 horses have trampled the competition in the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then shown up at the Belmont only to fail. Will I'll Have Another become the unlucky 12th, or will he continue to defy all odds and destroy the competition once again?
The odds are certainly looking good for him. He is currently listed as one of the 3-1 favorites, and the rest of the field—which has been largely unable to challenge him in each of the last two races—looks beatable.
For one thing, Bodemeister, the only horse who has given I'll Have Another a run for his money, will not be making a bid at the Belmont. Two second-place finishes to the eventual winner are enough for him.
One challenger who will return to the field after bowing out at the Preakness is Union Rags, who was one of the favorites at the Kentucky Derby but fell far short of expectations with an 11th place finish.
The truth is, no one has been able to match I'll Have Another's speed except Bodemeister, and with him out of the running, is there anything—barring injury—that can stop this horse?
The pressure certainly did not get to him or jockey Mario Gutierrez prior to the Preakness. In fact, they, as a tandem, looked better there than they did at the Derby.
Stamina played a huge factor in I'll Have Another's win at the Derby. Bodemeister could not sustain the blazing pace he set for himself, and I'll Have Another was the only horse who paced himself properly and still had the speed to close the gap in the stretch.
Alternately, speed and strategy were his secrets at the Preakness. Instead of setting too fast a pace at Pimlico on Saturday, Bodemeister's pace was just slow enough for I'll Have Another to close in on him in the final furlong, just like he did at Churchill Downs.
No horse has been able to find the right balance to keep I'll Have Another off-balance, and the horse has made the rest of the field pay without fail.
At the 1.5-mile Belmont, there might not be another horse with the right combination of stamina and speed to hang in there with I'll Have Another. And if there is not a horse who can beat him, good. Horse racing needs I'll Have Another.
If he wins, so does the sport.