Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect I'll Have Another's scratch.
The Triple Crown series will culminate Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York
when Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I’ll Have Another attempts to become the first horse in 34 years to sweep the elusive Triple Crown. If I’ll Have Another wins [with] the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, he’ll become only the twelfth horse in history to add that marker to his resume.
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978,
11 12 horses have been in the same position as I’ll Have Another having gained two jewels in the crown with an attempt at the grand prize in the Belmont. In each of these instances, something happened to upset the cart and leave race fans yearning, once again, for a Triple Crown winner.
The last Triple Crown attempt came in 2008 when Big Brown appeared rank on the Belmont backstretch and was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux, not finishing the race. Big Brown went on to win the Haskell Invitational and the Monmouth Stakes before retiring to stud at the end of his three-year-old season. The Belmont loss was the only loss in the colt’s eight-race career.
In looking back to the most recent Triple Crown winner when Affirmed won the glory in 1978, his nemesis, Alydar, was there to battle with him at every wire. In the Kentucky Derby, Affirmed held onto the lead to win by 1 ½ lengths in front of Alydar. In the Preakness Stakes, Affirmed’s win margin was a neck over Alydar. By the Belmont Stakes, it had become nearly a match race with Affirmed taking the Triple Crown trophy with just a head in front of Alydar. The pair was 13 lengths in front of their nearest competitor.
No doubt that the 1978 Triple Crown series had race fans excited and gave them something to look forward to as the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry continued. Race fans got a taste of that rivalry this year with I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister, who finished second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Although Bodemeister will not compete in the Belmont Stakes, trainer Bob Baffert has another standout he’ll send
to challenge I’ll Have Another. Paynter [who] won an allowance race on the Preakness undercard in his last race. This colt was touted early in his career just like stablemate Bodemeister, but appears to be more of a late bloomer and may just be getting warmed up. In April, he finished 2 ¼ lengths behind I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby. Although the 1 ½ mile distance of the Belmont Stakes is a lot to ask of a horse that has never gone farther than 1 1/8 miles, he may be talented enough to figure in the superfecta.
Dullahan, who finished a close third in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness, will return Saturday
to test I’ll Have Another. Dullahan, who’s trained by Louisville’s Dale Romans, appears fresh and ready to fire. In a four furlong work over the Belmont track earlier this week, Dullahan covered the distance in a sharp :45.97, finishing the fastest of 66 others attempting the same distance at the track that day. Jockey Kent Desormeaux has been replaced as the rider on Dullahan with jockey Javier Castellano. However, Desormeaux has secured a mount in the Belmont on Guyana Star Dweej.
Union Rags, who finished seventh in the Derby and sat out the Preakness Stakes, will also enter the Belmont Stakes with a new jockey. Julien Leparoux, who rode the Michael Matz-trained colt in his previous three starts, will be replaced by John Velazquez. Union Rags has found himself in some traffic trouble lately, so a clean trip, a fresh horse and new jock may show us the Union Rags we saw last year. Leparoux will not sit out the Belmont and has picked up the mount on Atigun.
The $1 Million Belmont Stakes is I’ll Have Another’s race to lose. From all accounts, the horse is doing well, seems able to handle the track, and should be ready to go on Saturday. His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is studying the quirky Belmont oval and will have some mounts leading into the weekend in which he can practice his trip for Saturday’s big race. Trainer Doug O’Neill has his lucky shamrock tie that he wore for the Derby and Preakness that he will wear again on Saturday, so everything seems in place for a big day on Saturday.
The list of Triple Crown near-misses in the last 34 years includes a collection of horses whose names are just as notable as the 11 Triple Crown winners, including Spectacular Bid (1979), Alysheba (1987), War Emblem (2002), and Smarty Jones (2004), just to name a few.
So, whether or not I’ll Have Another becomes the twelfth Triple Crown winner on Saturday, he’s piqued the interest of casual fans and gives all of us something to look forward to as the summer racing season begins.
Triple Crown coverage starts Thursday with a special 30-minute program entitled, “I’ll Have Another—Charging Toward History” which will air at 7:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. Following the special at 8:00 p.m., is a rebroadcast of the two-hour NBC Kentucky Derby coverage which will be followed by the two-hour Preakness coverage at 10. The NBC Sports Network continues to gear up for the Belmont on Friday with “Belmont Stakes Classics” from 4-5 p.m. which will be followed by a live broadcast of the Jaipur and Brooklyn Stakes from 5-6 p.m. Saturday coverage of the Belmont begins at 3:00 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network with coverage switching to your local NBC affiliate from 4:30–7 p.m. If you haven’t had your fill by then, switch it back to the NBC Sports Network for a 30-minute post-race show at 7 p.m. The scheduled post-time for the Belmont Stakes is 6:40 p.m.
Photo: Courtesy Belmont Stakes