The first two were easy. Well, maybe not easy, but the pressure of winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is nothing compared to what it will be like to enter the Belmont in the midst of a bid to win the Triple Crown.
In his first two races, I'll Have Another had the luxury of being an underdog. Particularly at Churchill Downs, very few had high expectations for a horse that was starting from Gate No. 19 and hadn't raced in weeks. Little did they know that the Doug O'Neill-saddled horse would do exactly what he does best: Hang back, let another speedster set the pace and then use his unparalleled quickness to stage a come-from-behind upset.
In the Preakness, against the same favorite in Bodemeister, I'll Have Another managed to do the same exact thing. Hang back, surge at the end, win by a furlong or less.
There are several factors playing into I'll Have Another's favor as the Belmont looms on June 9. For one, there isn't a ton of elite speed in the field, and secondly, the 1.5-mile track—the longest of all three Triple Crown races—will give him an opportunity to outlast the other horses with his stamina.
But there's a lot playing against I'll Have Another, too.
For one thing, he's no longer the happy-go-lucky fan favorite, nor is O'Neill, his trainer, who was slapped with a 45-day suspension late last week after one of his horses tested positive for elevated carbon dioxide levels, according to the Los Angeles Times' Bill Dwyre.
O'Neill also received a $15,000 suspension for the case, which had been on the table since 2010. Because the suspension doesn't take effect until July 1, O'Neill's preparation for the Belmont won't be affected.
Is I'll Have Another clean? Probably. You have to believe that the testing procedures are far too rigorous to be outsmarted right in the heat of the highest point of the racing season. But that slimmest shadow of a doubt is there, nevertheless, and it isn't going anywhere.
Before the California Horse Racing Board handed down the suspension, O'Neill had vehemently insisted that all of his horses were clean, despite several allegations in the past that he'd used illegal substances to enhance their performances. There are several ways to increase a horse's carbon dioxide levels, but one way is to give them a mixture of baking soda, sugar and water otherwise known as "milkshaking," a Class 3 racing violation.
O'Neill's offense may not have much to do with I'll Have Another, but it doesn't really matter, because O'Neill's entire reputation is now in question. As a result, so is I'll Have Another's, right before the biggest race of his young career.
It's hard to believe the distractions won't get in the way for O'Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. It's also hard to believe that those distractions, coupled with the pressure that comes with being a potential Triple Crown winner, won't have an adverse effect on I'll Have Another come June 9.
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