There's a reason I'll Have Another has so much history to overcome at the Belmont Stakes. There's a reason no horse has managed to claim the Triple Crown since Affirmed turned the trick in 1978, and that 11 have failed to do so after winning the first two legs in that span.
The reason? The run at Belmont Park is the longest and, in turn, the toughest of the three that constitute the Holy Grail of American horse racing.
At a mile and a half, the Belmont Stakes is significantly longer than the Kentucky Derby (a mile and a quarter) and even more so than the Preakness Stakes (a mile and 3/16). Few horses, if any, are bred and trained to traverse such tedious tracks nowadays, even less so within a five-week span.
Yet, that's precisely the charge of any horse, I'll Have Another included, that would hope to make history by winning the Triple Crown.
Will I'll Have Another finish off the Triple Crown?
Of course, I'll Have Another isn't just any horse. The son of Flower Alley has managed to pull ahead of some rather stiff competition, thanks to tremendous stamina and a stretch-run afterburner that's proven immensely useful in recent weeks. Twice he laid in wait behind Bob Baffert's Bodemeister, and twice he came from behind at the end to leave the favored colt behind.
Even if only by a nose.
But Bodemeister won't be at the Belmont. Rather, he'll be resting from a grueling and disappointing campaign while Baffert and jockey Mike Smith devote their energy to making Paynter a horse to remember.
In fact, the only horse other than I'll Have Another that's daring to run all three races this year is Optimizer, which came in sixth at the Preakness and 11th at the Derby before that.
There's a reason for that, too, and it's the same reason that makes I'll Have Another's run at history so treacherous.
That is, the Belmont, "Big Sandy" and all, is as long and as difficult as any event in all of horse racing, and it comes on the heels of the next two on that dubious list.
The field may be thinner this time around, but the enemy within for I'll Have Another—the heavy legs, the tired gasps for air—will be competitor enough to overcome in the lengthiest run of his life.