Belmont Stakes 2012: Why I'll Have Another's Absence Won't Hamper Excitement

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Why I'll Have Another's Absence Won't Hamper Excitement
Al Bello/Getty Images

Yesterday morning's disappointing news that I'll Have Another's front leg injury has forced the Triple Crown hopeful to bow out of the Belmont Stakes is just that, disappointing.  However, it does not diminish the luster that accompanies the "Test of a Champion."

Sure, it would have been exciting to see if I'll Have Another would be able to pull off the Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but history was not on the horse's side.  Since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses have failed to win at Belmont after winning the Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

I'll Have Another becomes just the third horse in history to not race in the Belmont after winning in the first two legs of the Triple Crown—Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936. 

Even without the Triple Crown possibility, the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday will be a tremendous spectacle of horse racing.  The favorites have now become Dullahan, Union Rags and Paynter, with others littered behind them.

Dullahan finished third in last month's Kentucky Derby and did not race in the Preakness Stakes. Before I'll Have Another's bow-out this morning, Dullahan was the second favorite (5-1) to run first on Saturday. According to thespread.com, Dullahan is now the favorite at 5-2 odds.  If he can win at Belmont, it will be his third Grade 1 victory of his career and the first with new jockey Javier Castellano.  

In both of Dullahan's previous wins, Kent Desormeaux had been his jockey.  Donegal Racing, who owns Dullahan, cited Desormeaux's drinking habits as their reason for letting him go.  

Castellano—the No. 1 ranked jockey in 2012 according to Bloodhorse.com—has an outstanding win ratio of 25 percent and $7.9 million in earnings thus far.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Union Rags, don't forget, was the favorite going into the Kentucky Derby.  He failed to live up to that hype, finishing seventh.  This caused some to question Union Rags' talent, but jockey John Valesquez feels otherwise (via Bostonherald.com).

The talent is there, definitely. . . . Hopefully his luck changes in [the Belmont Stakes] and he can show the talent he has.

This story of redemption has become one of the headlines on Saturday, as it will be Union Rags' opportunity to show that his underwhelming finishes in the last two races—third in the Florida Derby and seventh in the Kentucky Derby—were not due to lack of talent but instead the fault of bad trips. 

Union Rags is now the second favorite, at 3-1 odds, and the Belmont Stakes and will surely generate a lot of buzz among the bettors.

Paynter has been one of the most intriguing horses at the Belmont Stakes.  He is now the third favorite (5-1) to win.  Any horse trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert certainly has a chance.  

While many are attempting to compare Bodemeister and Paynter, Baffert points out significant differences between the two colts (via Bostonherald.com).

These are two different types of horses but [Paynter] is getting better and better.  I think the mile and a half would suit him better than it would Bodemeister.

That may explain why Baffert and his constituents decided not to run Bodemeister at Belmont, who would certainly be a favorite after finishing second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.  

The only other horse that has better than 10-1 odds in the field is Street Life at 8-1.  While he is one of the more lightly raced horses—just five races under his belt—his magnificent closing ability has led many people to pick the young, dark colt.

Additionally, Street Life has shown major improvement with each start thus far in 2012.  Improving enough to win at the long, wide track at Belmont is a tall order but not unrealistic by any means.

Whether you tune in on Saturday to see an old favorite get (excuse the pun) back on track, a young colt go for his second Grade 1 win, or a major underdog come out of nowhere to stun the field, it is sure to be an exciting day at Belmont.    

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