Belmont Stakes 2012: Fresh Legs Will Propel I'll Have Another to Triple Crown
In the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, pundits questioned I'll Have Another's ability to compete because he hadn't raced very frequently in preparation for it. Turns out, that was the idea all along.
According to DRF.com's Jay Privman, Doug O'Neill's prize colt only raced twice this year on purpose: to preserve his speed for the May and June races that really count.
On the Sunday after I'll Have Another's Preakness win, which set him up to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, O'Neill told Privman that the day after his win at the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February, he decided not to race his horse again until the Santa Anita Derby nine weeks later. I'll Have Another won that one, too, by a nose.
Only two races leading up to the Derby, which always featured a field crowded with immense talent and experience? Was that really a winning combination for any horse?
Banking everything on wins at the Derby and the Preakness was a risky move, but it was one O'Neill was confident in. He knew his horse better than anyone and knew exactly how to get a winning performance out of him. He told Privman:
He hadn’t run in five months, so we thought it was smart to wait nine weeks for his second start of the year. That’s why we’ve been able to succeed, and be where we are.
Most of the horses who hadn't faced other Derby contenders before entering the race were criticized for it. No one had any idea how they'd stack up against the rest of the field, but for I'll Have Another, that didn't matter.
O'Neill knew he'd blow away the rest of the field with his speed, anyway. Maybe it was better to surprise the rest of the field; that way, they couldn't be prepared for the type of challenge I'll Have Another would present.
One thing is for sure: I'll Have Another wouldn't be coming off victories in both the Derby and the Preakness if not for his lengthy periods of rest prior to the May race. Now, facing the longest of the three Triple Crown races, is when those fresh legs will truly pay off.
I'll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez have earned accolades for being able to pace themselves in these longer races, for being able to hold steady and then pick the perfect time to make a late, winning surge. That will be especially important at the Belmont, which—at 1.5 miles—will be the biggest challenge yet.
But I'll Have Another has already proven that his style is well-suited to longer tracks. He's content to cruise along and wait until the end of the race to showcase his blazing speed. And at this point, there's no other horse who has been remotely able to challenge him aside from Bodemeister, who won't race at the Belmont.
Now, the other horses are tired and weary, but I'll Have Another is still raring to go one more time. Unlike the rest of the field, he still has those all-important 12 furlongs left in him.
Looks like O'Neill knew what he was doing after all.
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