Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another and More Entrants to Fear
We have just over five days until the third leg of the Triple Crown runs at Belmont. In the many years that the race has been held—the first one was way back in 1867—there have been 29 horses who have had the opportunity to complete the Triple Crown at Belmont.
This year, it is no different. Favourite—I'll Have Another—comes into the 2012 race already having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but that does not guarantee him a win, or the Crown, by any means.
In those last 29 attempts by horses who have already gained themselves the first two victories of the Crown, only 11 have been able to get the final and toughest leg of the trio at Belmont. The last horse to do it was Affirmed, when he became the Triple Crown champion in 1978.
Is this the year that a 33-year-old drought is broken, or could there be another Birdstone in this group of capable horses? Birdstone beat Smarty Jones in the 2004 race when Jones was attempting to become the 12th Triple Crown winner of racing.
According to Beth Harris of the Associated Press (via The Province), the Belmont Stakes is a race that is very uncommon for three-year-olds. The 1-1/2 mile track is a distance most will never have to run again. Along with the deep and loose sandy track, many consider this race to be "The Test of Champions."
Let's take a look at the favourite, I'll Have Another, and his competitors, who he may have to fear more so than thought.
I'll Have Another
Last Race: Preakness (first)
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
He won the Kentucky Derby. He won the Preakness. He won the ... never mind, I will not jinx him. I'll Have Another is the favourite for a reason, and he is bringing some very tough competition to the field once the Belmont Stakes kick off next Sunday.
That does not mean he is going up against a bunch of weak competition, and he is coming off running two great races, so he may be felling it in his legs come Sunday. Nonetheless, if we are looking at horses to fear, then there should be no bigger horse to fear than the one that is attempting to claim a Triple Crown.
"If any of you guys got a chance to see him, I think he's maintained his energy level and his stride, and he looks fantastic," trainer Doug O'Neill said. “So he's fit, and we have to stay lucky and stay injury-free and we'll be in great shape."
*Last race, odds, and jockey information retrieved from the Belmont Stakes' website.
Last Race: Kentucky Derby (third)
Jockey: Javier Castellano
This horse has been given the best odds to knock out I'll Have Another from the winner's circle at the Belmont Stakes on Sunday. Rightfully so, I would say. He earned those odds after keeping pace for much of the Kentucky Derby and holding on close at the end to I'll Have Another—around 1-1/2 lengths back.
He showed a strong kick and came from quite a few lengths back to bring himself into contention. He looks to have all the tools to run a race alongside I'll Have Another. Also, since he took the Preakness off, he should be well rested come Sunday.
Dullahan's trainer, Dale Romans, said after one training session (via belmontstakes.com):
When he works like that, he runs big. He looked like he was galloping, and then we got back to the barn he recovered quickly. He wasn’t blowing. I think he’s ready. I’m happy with my position. I wouldn’t change places with anybody in this race.”
Last Race: Kentucky Derby (seventh)
Jockey: John Velazquez
Will a new jockey bring new life to the seventh finisher at the Kentucky Derby? That is what Union Rags trainer Michael Matz believes, as he tells Esther Marr of ESPN:
Julian (the previous jockey) was good with the horse ... but he got in trouble in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby and I don't think the horse really had a chance to run. Whether it was the horse, the jockey, or the trainer, I don't know, but we decided to make a change.
We will find out whether or not the change was for the better come the start of the Belmont Stakes on Sunday. John Velazquez, the new jockey of Union Rags, got his first ride on him yesterday. Once on him he was in awe by the horse—who could have a legit shot to take away the Triple Crown from I'll Have Another, should Velazquez be able to run him right. He told David Grening of belmontstakes.com:
Very nice, very impressive. Thankfully, I didn’t let him out too soon. He would’ve gone by the horse very easy. I waited with him till the quarter pole, eased out a little bit from behind him, and at the eighth pole I just gave him his head and he was gone. I didn’t have to ask him for anything. He did it by himself.
Last Race: Pimlico Allowance (first)
Jockey: Mike Smith
When you have a jockey who has won a race at the Belmont Stakes, I do not know if you ever really want to count them that far out. Especially when you have a jockey who is riding a horse that is one of the favourites and realizes just how important rest is in a tough race like at Belmont. Mike Smith told Beth Harris of the Associated Press:
It ain’t like the old days where everyone used to run in all three. It’s taxing on the horse to run in all three. If somebody is hiding behind the bushes waiting to jump you when they’re all fresh, they can beat you.
Coming out of his last race—the Pimlico Allowance—with a first-place finish, Paynter is coming into the Belmont Stakes hot.
Also, Paynter has another strong connection in the racing world. In addition to a strong jockey, he has the same trainer as Bodemeister—Bob Baffert. As we all recall, Bodemeister came that close to beating I'll Have Another in the last two races. Maybe a third time will be the charm for Baffert.
Last Race: Peter Pan (third)
Jockey: Jose Lezcano
In terms of odds, Street Life is the fifth best horse in the field—but how much does that really mean when you are given a 15-1 shot to win the Belmont Stakes? Nonetheless, he is running just as expected, but even that may not be anywhere near what it takes to stay up there with the big guys.
Chad Brown, trainer of Street Life was quoted by belmontstakes.com as saying:
I was looking for five-eighths in 1:01 and that’s exactly what he did. He worked very good. He galloped out good and came back with plenty of energy. I just want to maintain where he’s at. I wasn’t looking for more than that.
Street Life is one of the top rested horses, not having to go through the exhausting runs of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. He could surprise people should he keep his legs and run a solid time—which he seems like he is ready to do.