That’s heady company for a colt who has yet to be favored in any of his seven races. That should change in the Belmont.
“We’re thinking Triple Crown, baby,” elated winning trainer Doug O’Neill said. “He’s a special horse. We’ll see how he comes out of it, and if he comes out of it in good shape, we’re heading to New York, baby.”
I’ll Have Another won by 1½ lengths in the Derby and by a neck in the Preakness — the same margins Affirmed posted in wins over rival Alydar in those two races 34 years ago.
But there’s one big storyline difference this time: Bodemeister is skipping the Belmont. “He’s getting off the bus here,” trainer Bob Baffert said.
The 1 3-16-mile Preakness unfolded the same way as the 1¼-mile Derby, with the speedy Bodemeister moving to the lead under Mike Smith and I’ll Have Another hanging back in fourth in the 11-horse field. The early fractions were slower than the Derby, but when it came time for Bodemeister to dig in, it was I’ll Have Another who found another gear under Gutierrez and reeled in the tiring pacesetter in the shadow of the wire.
Since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner, 11 horses have won the first two legs only to come up short in the 1½-mile Belmont, the longest of the races also known as the “Test of the Champion.” The most recent try came in 2008, when Big Brown was pulled up around the turn for home and did not finish. Before that, Smarty Jones was run down in the final 70 yards by Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont.
With the colorful and controversial O’Neill squarely in the limelight, scrutiny is sure to intensify about his violations for allegedly giving his horses improper drugs. He was fined $1,000 and suspended 15 days in one incident. He is contesting another.
“We know we play by the rules,” O’Neill said. “It’s all about the horse, and we’re just going to focus on the horse.”
I’ll Have Another seems to have made a habit of close calls lately. Before the Derby and Preakness, the chestnut colt won the Santa Anita Derby by a nose over Creative Cause. As usual, owner Paul Reddam wasn’t sure his colt would come through this time.
“I didn’t feel confident we were going to get there until 10 yards from the wire,” Reddam said. “I wasn’t sure that we would get there, but I knew that our horse had a lot of heart and a lot of fight.”