I'll Have Another will attempt to become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown
History could be written this next Saturday, June 9, as horse racing's Triple Crown is at stake when the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes takes place from Belmont Park.
Thirty-three horses have gone to the Belmont to try and win the Triple Crown, but only 11 have achieved it. It's been 34 years since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
This year, it will be I'll Have Another who will try to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. He is the deserving favorite and will get the most attention on and off the track.
He has put horse racing fans on their feet with his home stretch runs on both the Derby and the Preakness, where he was the only horse to catch the loose-on-the-lead pace-setter Bodemeister both times.
I'll Have Another will be facing 10 rivals on Saturday, and the task won't be an easy one. Three horses, Dullahan, Union Rags and Paynter, stand out from the contenders list and are very capable of spoiling the Triple Crown bid.
Since Affirmed won in 1978, 11 horses have tried—and failed—to win the Triple Crown. The closest one to make it was Real Quiet in 1998, when he lost by a nose to Victory Gallop. It was a heartbreaking defeat because in a stride after the finish line, Real Quiet had regained the lead.
Many things have happened that haven't allowed the 22 horses that have failed to win the Triple Crown. It might have been a bad step, jockey's misjudgments, bad luck or simply they were not good enough.
But whatever the case, it's a must watch to see a horse attempt to earn horse racing's immortality. I'll Have Another has the pedigree, running style and tactical speed to do it, so you can't miss watching him try.
Let's take a quick overview to every Belmont contender and break down their odds. The odds are all from Mike Watchmaker on DRF.com's web page.
Trainer: Dominick A. Schettino
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
This horse is a son of 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Invasor (ARG) but so far he has shown nothing worth noting on six starts.
He broke his maiden just two races back and on his last one against older horses, he acted up at the gate and practically lost any chance to win it there.
His works for this racing have been very good, especially the five furlongs in :59 on May 12th at Belmont.
The ride of Rosie Napravnik makes him an intriguing prospect, but the big question regarding him is if he belongs here.
Trainer: Doodnauth Shivmangal
This horse is a son of Eddington, whose only graded stakes winner has been Secret Circle, and his progeny have not shown being capable of handling long distances.
After seven tries, he finally broke his maiden two races ago and will take a big jump in class here—he has run as low as a $25K claimer.
He was initially considered for the Preakness, but after some problems in one of his workouts, his connections decided to skip it and go to the Belmont Stakes.
He has finished no lower than second in his last five races, but he will certainly have bigger fish to fry here.
Trainer: Manuel J. Azpurua
Jockey: Alex O. Solis
The veteran of the race with a total of 13 lifetime starts, and his last race was a fifth-place finish March 10 in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Before that, he finished a fast-closing fourth in the Sam F Davis on February 4.
A son of Lawyer Ron, out of the stakes-placed French Deputy mare Dance Tune broke his maiden at Calder last August. He then before returned three months later to win an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on December 3.
He worked a bullet :46.6 for four furlongs on May 24.
This will be his first race outside of Florida, and while he has placed in his two graded stakes tries, this is a whole different monster he will be facing.
Trainer: Kenneth G. McPeek
Jockey: Julien R. Leparoux
His last work on May 26 was a blazing :46.6 for four furlongs at Belmont Park—the best that day.
He comes from winning on the Derby undercard a $100K optional claimer race. It was his second win on the year—he won a $50K optional claimer in January.
Between those two wins, he finished over nine lengths behind the Secret Circle and Bodemeister in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, respectively.
On his other graded stakes participation, he finished a tiring fifth behind Gemologist at the Kentucky Jockey Club last year.
So far, he has not shown he can compete with the top runners in the division, and that will be exactly the opposition on Saturday.
Trainer: D.Wayne Lukas
Jockey: Corey S.Nakatani
This is the only other horse besides I'll Have Another that would run on all three legs of the 2012 Triple Crown.
His best and most visually-appealing race to date remains his fast-closing second place to Secret Circle at the Rebel Stakes on March 17.
He has 11 lifetime races, and the only non-stakes race was his winning debut on a maiden special weight at Saratoga last August.
D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Belmont Stakes winner, keeps insisting with the horse, and while he has been a disappointment on his last three races, he keeps working great.
If there is a horse on this race with the pedigree to excel at this distance, it is him.
Trainer: Kenneth G. McPeek
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Only two races for this horse, both resulted in front-running wins and will much likely be the pace-setter on the race.
He steps up big time in class here, but his trainer, Ken McPeek, knows a thing or two about ending Triple Crown hopes.
McPeek's Sarava scored the biggest upset in Belmont Stakes history at odds of 70-1, upsetting War Emblem's Triple Crown bid in 2002.
But for this horse to win he must do so without having run two turns and having gone beyond a mile before on his brief career.
It's not unheard of and he has been working lights out for this race.
History shows that Da' Tara crushed Big Brown's bid in 2008 with his 38-1 wire-to-wire upset win. The difference is that Da'Tara had previously run and won at two-turns and at least at nine furlongs.
Could he replicate Da' Tara's race? That is the question to be answered.
Trainer: Chad C. Brown
Jockey: Jose Lezcano
After winning the Broad Brush Stakes for his second win in a row, he failed to rally at the Wood Memorial finishing sixth to Gemologist.
But he bounced back to finish a fast-closing third to Mark Valeski at the Peter Pan.
He worked four furlongs in :47.8 last May 26 at Belmont Park—good for ninth-best that day.
The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense seems to be screaming for distance, as he has shown a deep closing style, which is very well-suited for this race.
But he needs at least an honest pace to win here, and the pace-setting questions for the Belmont Stakes remain up in the air.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Mike E. Smith
Trainer Bob Baffert will not have Bodemeister take a third shot at wiring the race against I'll Have Another, but he is sending out this constantly improving and promising colt.
He never ran as a two-year-old—just like Bodemeister—and is going for his fifth race this year. He won his debut race back in February 18 and returned to race the Santa Anita Derby on just his second start on April 7.
The Santa Anita Derby was I'll Have Another's first Grade 1 victory, and Paynter bobbled at the start and finished a game fourth-place just 3.75 lengths behind.
He then finished second to Hierro at the Derby Trial in a sloppy track when he was prompted to go to the early lead.
His last race was on the Preakness undercard, where he easily won, crushing the field on a $50K allowance and registering an eye-catching 106 Beyer figure for 8.5 furlongs.
He has been constantly improving and drilled a bullet workout of :59.2 in five furlongs May 27. Baffert and jockey Mike Smith have a very serious contender here.
Trainer: Michael R. Matz
Jockey: John R. Velazquez
This is the horse that everyone keeps buzzing about and will continue to do so until the race is over.
Ever since his eye-catching win at the Champagne (G1) and his close second to Hansen at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year, a lot has been expected from this colt, who has possibly not delivered his best performance yet.
But does he have that performance in him?
His best Beyer to date has been 95 twice, most recently at the Fountain of Youth (G2), where he won being hand-ridden by Julien Leparoux.
But after that, at the Florida Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Derby (G1), he faced major traffic problems, and that certainly didn't allow him to show his best form.
This prompted a jockey change, and now, two-time Eclipse Award winning jockey John Velazquez will be aboard.
While the jockey change was warranted, it still on Union Rags form to demonstrate if he is capable of winning here. We might not have seen his best, but the question will be if his best is still good enough to win here.
Trainer: Dale L. Romans
Jockey: Javier J. Castellano
This horse will probably be I'll Have Another's biggest threat and quite possibly the second betting choice come race day.
He comes to the race as maybe the freshest horse, and he has been turning heads during his morning workouts.
His fast-closing third place finish to I'll Have Another in the Derby after a troubled trip adds to the buzz surrounding him.
Also, it's worth noting that Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux will not be aboard after being replaced for failing a breathalyzer test. He didn't ride him at the Preakness and will not be aboard again.
The nation's leading jockey, Javier Castellano, will be aboard. Castellano rides regularly at Belmont and is always among the leaders, so he is familiar with the track.
The questions with Dullahan will be if there will be enough pace to help him with his closing style and if he will be able to perform well in "The Big Sandy."
Belmont Park's track is a difficult one, and Dullahan's best performances have been either on synthetic or turf. He is 5-2-2-1 on those surfaces and 4-0-0-2 on dirt.
Still, he has been looking great and is definitely in top form coming to the Belmont.
Trainer: Doug F. O'Neill
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
This is horse that everyone is talking about, and rightfully so. He will be the 12th horse since Affirmed in 1978 going for the Triple Crown.
Will he be the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown or the 12th horse to fail in winning it since Affirmed won it 34 years ago?
Every year, horse racing fans look for the thrill of rooting or a possible Triple Crown winner, and here is yet another opportunity.
I'll Have Another might not resemble the likes of previous Triple Crown winners, but he has everything going his way here. He has the form, pedigree and most importantly, very tactical speed that he has used to subdue his opponents.
The past four Triple Crown winners have won wire-to-wire, and he did show great front-running speed on his first two races.
Will his connections decide to go for that strategy here on a race where he might be able to do it, or just repeat the recipe that have succeeded thus far of stalking the pace?
Whichever is the strategy, this horse is fresh and perfect in four starts this year. He also has been constantly improving on his Beyers, earning a career-best 109 in the Preakness.
As is the case with Union Rags, we may not have seen I'll Have Another's best yet. And that should be scary for all contenders as he takes his shot at the elusive Triple Crown.