If you are reading this then chances are pretty good you know exactly what happened in I’ll Have Another’s last race. Early on in the Preakness he settled just off the pace set by Bodemeister and pursued by Creative Cause. He unleashed his move in the final turn, distanced the rest of the field and chased down Bodemeister in the final strides to claim his shot at immortality.
It was one of the more exciting Preakness finishes in recent memory, and it was more impressive in a lot of ways than his also-fantastic Derby win two weeks earlier.
A horse has to have tremendous heart and will to win by mounting an effort like that; so you certainly can’t call him, or what he has accomplished, a fluke.
There aren’t any highlights a three-year-old can have that are more impressive than I’ll Have Another’s last two wins. His whole three-year-old year has been one to remember, though. At two he showed flashes, but he never really broke through.
He started this year by winning the Robert Lewis as a 43/1 longshot. After an unorthodox nine-week layoff, he came back to win the Santa Anita Derby—a victory he needed just to amass enough earnings to make the Kentucky Derby field.
You never would have guessed in February, or even in late April, that this was the best horse of his class, but that’s what he has clearly laid claim to now. One more win, and his claim to excellence will extend well-beyond this current crop of three-year-olds.
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
Sometimes in sports, things happen that just don’t make sense. You can’t explain them, so you just have to accept them and enjoy them.
The improbable last month in the life of Mario Gutierrez falls into that category.
Up until this winter, he was riding at Hastings Park in Vancouver—the real minor leagues of the sport. He made the move to Southern California, but he was having little success and was about to head home.
Owner Paul Reddam saw him work a horse, liked how he rode, and decided to give him a chance in the Robert Lewis because no big-name jockeys had much interest in his big longshot.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Gutierrrez should have been totally outclassed in the Derby and overwhelmed by the pressure of the Preakness. Instead, he rode both races as well as he could possibly have ridden them, and he is the biggest reason he and his horse have this chance.
Again, the pressure of the situation and the challenges of the distance and the track should be too much for him; but at this point, it’s hard to doubt him. He’s being mentored by legendary jockey Jerry Bailey leading up to the race, so that should help his cause as well.
His would be the most remarkable story for a Triple Crown-winning jockey since, well, the last one—Steve Cauthen—who won in 1978 just a month after his 18th birthday, and only two years after his first career win.
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
O’Neill makes his first Belmont start just three weeks after his first Preakness start, but he has handled the pressure of this situation very well. He has been patient with his horse and has had a very deliberate preparation strategy.
He also seems to be dealing with a potentially massive distraction very well. He is scheduled to serve a 45-day suspension after the Belmont for a situation involving performance enhancers in California. It’s a controversial case, and he vehemently denies the charges.
The first question you always have to ask in the Belmont is whether the horse has the breeding to handle the brutal Belmont distance. In this case, the answer seems to be yes.
On the dam side is where that really stands out. His dam’s grandsire is Kris S., a noted stamina producer who has sired five Breeders’ Cup winners, and who was the damsire of Zenyatta. On the stud side he is descended from Forty Niner, the sire of Belmont winner Editor’s Note.
He doesn’t like to set the pace, but he wants to be in contact with it. In his four wins this year, he has never been particularly far back, and he has always been moving forward while strongly coming around the final turn.
Chances are that he won’t look to set the pace in the Belmont, either (Paynter is most likely to fulfill that role). He’ll be in the next group of horses, though, and will look to stay out of trouble and save everything he can before dueling down the endless Belmont stretch.
2012 Belmont Stakes predictions for I’ll Have Another
I’ve had my heart shattered by Big Brown, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, and so many more, so I hesitate to believe that we’ll see a Triple Crown winner this year or any year.
The more you look at this horse, though, the more you have to believe.
The last two races he ran were flawless. He’s clearly faster than any horse in this field, and he has a remarkable relationship with his jockey. The pace should work for him, and the distance isn’t a major concern. Only Bodemeister has been in the same conversation as this horse so far, and he’s back in California licking his wounds.
There hasn’t been a horse since 1978 that has gone into the Belmont with a better chance at ending the Triple Crown drought than I’ll Have Another has. He’ll go off at well below even money, though, so this is far more of a sentimental play than a value-packed one if you do bet on the favorite.