I’ll Have Another will try to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 when he runs in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 9.
Since Spectacular Bid in 1979, eleven 3-year-olds have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to fail in their Triple Crown quest at Belmont Park.
Spectacular Bid appeared to be a slam dunk in the ’79 Belmont Stakes but received a questionable ride and finished 3rd. Pleasant Colony was also 3rd in his failed bid in 1981. Alysheba finished a disappointing 4th behind runaway winner Bet Twice in 1987. Easy Goer turned the tables on his arch rival Sunday Silence to deny history in 1989.
Touch Gold turned the tables on Silver Charm in 1997. Real Quiet moved too soon and Victory Gallop made him pay the price late in 1998. My value top Lemon Drop Kid spoiled Charismatic‘s party in 1999.
War Emblem faded to 8th while Sarava lit up the tote in 2002. My Derby top Empire Maker got sweet revenge on Funny Cide in 2003. I was never on the Smarty Jones bandwagon and was not surprised to see him go down to Birdstone in 2004. Finally, I was not a fan of Big Brown and expected him to go down in flames in 2008 but I was not smart enough to come up with Da Tara.
I did not start attending the races until 1980 so I just missed Spectacular Bid’s 3-year-old season, but I did see the last ten failed attempts and know how hard it is to complete the sweep with a win in the Test of Champions.
I’ll Have Another has a winning spirit, versatile running style, and a promising pedigree, but is that enough to complete a seemingly impossible task? History is not on his side.
Mario Gutierrez has been a huge asset up to this point, but so was Stewart Elliott aboard Smarty Jones until he was harassed by Rock Hard Ten (Alex Solis) and Eddington (Jerry Bailey) at Big Sandy. Kent Desormeaux jumped the gun in ’98 aboard Real Quiet and Gary Stevens and Victory Gallop tagged him late. Gutierrez has been a cool customer so far but the inexperienced pilot could get lost in the vastness of Belmont Park.
Fresh, talented rivals also make the twelve furlong task a daunting one. Empire Maker, 2nd to Funny Cide in the 2003 Derby, skipped the Preakness and turned the tables on him in the Belmont. Birdstone did the same thing to Smarty Jones in 2005. The last six Belmont Stakes winners (Ruler On Ice, Drosselmeyer, Summer Bird, Da’ Tara, Rags To Riches, Jazil) did not run in the Preakness Stakes.
The most dangerous threat to I’ll Have Another is Union Rags. The Michael Matz trainee is a 3-time graded winner exiting back-to-back troubled trips under Julien Leparoux in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. I have always thought that he was the most talented member of his generation and a clean trip is all he needs to prove me right. Look for Matz to reach out for an experienced NY rider for the Belmont Stakes.
Alpha is another interesting candidate and reminds me of last year’s Belmont Stakes runner-up Stay Thirsty. He owns tactical speed, is bred to run all day, and should get better with age. Kiaran McLaughlin won the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil. This year’s Kentucky Derby show finisher Dullahan is also waiting in the wings.
Much will be written and said in the weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes. I would like to see a Triple Crown winner as much as anyone and will be pleasantly surprised if history is made at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9. Let the games begin!