05/21/2012 2:30PM

Belmont 2012: I'll Have Another still full of vigor for Triple Crown run

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Tom Keyser
I'll Have Another remains relatively fresh and fit after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Soon after I’ll Have Another won the Robert Lewis Stakes in February, the decision was made to not race him again until the Santa Anita Derby, the theory being he would be fresh not only for that race, but for the Triple Crown series if he was fortunate enough to keep doing well.

That may have seemed wishful thinking at the time. Now, it looks like a brilliant plan, for I’ll Have Another has arrived in New York with a chance to capture the Triple Crown.

His bid will come June 9 in the 144th Belmont Stakes, the last and, at 1 1/2 miles, the longest of the Triple Crown races. I’ll Have Another already has won both the Kentucky Derby and, last Saturday, the Preakness Stakes. He has been given flawless rides by Mario Gutierrez, and appears to have held up well physically to the rigors of this quest so far, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109 in the Preakness.

But his being in this position may very well date to the fateful decision made by trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam the day after the Lewis.

“He hadn’t run in five months, so we thought it was smart to wait nine weeks for his second start of the year,” O’Neill said Sunday morning at Pimlico, before I’ll Have Another was sent by van to Belmont Park. “That’s why we’ve been able to succeed, and be where we are.”

[BELMONT STAKES: Possible starters, video interviews, latest updates]

Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown. And, since the series was last swept by Affirmed in 1978, 11 horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but come up short in the Belmont.

So, I’ll Have Another will join one of two lists. He will be a Triple Crown winner, putting his name alongside Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. Or he will become the latest Derby and Preakness winner to fail in the race known as the “Test of the Champion,” which since 1978 has proved insurmountable for Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, and Big Brown.

O’Neill thinks he can pull it off.

“It gives us a lot of confidence, the way he galloped out both in the Derby and [Preakness],” O’Neill said. “He’s always had an amazing stride. Another amazing thing is how he’s handled all the pressure, like the crowds. He’s handled it all perfectly.”

I’ll Have Another was sent by van to Belmont Park on Sunday. The van – which included three other O’Neill runners, plus former racehorse Lava Man, now a stable pony -- encountered quite a bit of traffic, mostly owing to an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike, so what is usually a four-hour trip took nearly 5 1/2 hours. He is in Barn 9, which belongs to Mark Hennig, who also trains horses for Reddam.

I’ll Have Another walked the barn’s shed row on Monday, but is expected to on the track and training no later than mid-week. O’Neill flew back to California on Sunday -- “I’ve still got a lot of nice horses out there that my owners probably want me to pay attention to,” he said – but said he would likely be in New York by the end of the week.

O’Neill wanted to get I’ll Have Another to Belmont Park as soon as possible so he could acclimate to the surroundings and the surface. Similar strategy certainly paid off in the Preakness. I’ll Have Another arrived at Pimlico a full 12 days before the Preakness.

O’Neill had never before run a horse in the Preakness. Gutierrez never had ridden at Pimlico until last week. It’s a similar scenario in the Belmont.

“Staying injury free and healthy, and getting Mario used to the track,” O’Neill cited as his primary objectives over the next three weeks.

“I want to make sure Mario gets a chance to ride before the Belmont,” O’Neill said. “It’s a unique course. But as we’ve seen from Mario in the first two legs, he’s unbelievably patient.

“He’ll have a target on his back. He’ll just have to ride his race. He’ll have to see all the riding going on around him and stay clear. It looked like there was a little race riding on the first turn of the Preakness, but he stayed cool. The guy seems like he’s been riding a lot longer than he has.”

As of Monday, 19 days before the Belmont, there were 12 other horses under consideration for the Belmont, the most notable being Dullahan, who finished third in the Derby, and Union Rags, who was seventh in the Derby. Both skipped the Preakness.

Kent Desormeaux rode Dullahan in the Derby, but trainer Dale Romans on Monday said Javier Castellano would replace him in the Belmont.

Julien Leparoux rode Union Rags in the Derby, but he is unlikely to keep the mount. John Velazquez is the most prominent jockey currently without a Belmont mount.

Bodemeister, second in the Derby and Preakness, will not run in the Belmont, trainer Bob Baffert said immediately following the Preakness.

Mark Valeski, who won the Peter Pan Stakes on May 12 and has been considered a top contender for the Belmont, is doubtful for the race, trainer Larry Jones said Monday, citing the colt’s lack of energy since the race.

“Mark’s actually doing okay, but he got a little tired after the race,” Jones said from Churchill Downs, where Mark Valeski was sent after the Peter Pan. “He doesn’t have the same energy level. It’s looking like the Belmont is more and more doubtful. He’s not showing a lot of sparkle.

“I’m not saying he’s 100 percent out. But we may end up bypassing the Belmont and just waiting for the Dwyer.”

The Dwyer is June 30.

Jones said he had not worked Mark Valeski since the Peter Pan, and had no plans to do so until he perks up in his training.

“He’s acting like he’s a little knocked out,” Jones said.

– additional reporting by David Grening

2012 Possible Belmont Stakes Starters

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

Last Race

Alpha

K. McLaughlin

R. Dominguez

Kentucky Derby, 12th

Atigun

K. McPeek

undecided

Churchill allowance, 1st

Dullahan

D. Romans

J. Castellano

Kentucky Derby, 3rd

Five Sixteen

D. Schettino

undecided

Aqueduct allowance, 4th

Guyana Star Dweej

D. Shivmangal

undecided

Belmont OC/allowance, 2nd

I'll Have Another

D. O'Neill

M. Gutierrez

Preakness, 1st

Optimizer

D. Lukas

C. Nakatani

Preakness, 6th

Paynter

B. Baffert

M. Smith

Pimlico allowance, 1st

Rousing Sermon

J. Hollendorfer

undecided

Kentucky Derby, 8th

Stealcase

M. Casse

S. Bridgmohan

Derby Trial, 3rd

Street Life

C. Brown

J. Lezcano

Peter Pan, 3rd

Union Rags

M. Matz

undecided

Kentucky Derby, 7th

Unstoppable U

K. McPeek

J. Alvarado

Belmont allowance, 1st

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Odds are, in my book, that somebody other than IHA wins the Belmont and spoils many a ticket. It's more likely that one of his fresher competitors will jump up (like a Birdstone-type) and adore the distance than it is the IHA will win the Triple Crown. About 4 to 5 against. Obviously, that makes IHA 6 to 5 for the TC. It might as well be a flip of the coin. Given the likely pay-off in a multi-race wager, pick3 or pick4, with an upset of the 6 to 5 choice, I'll be looking to beat him.
Robert Beard More than 1 year ago
Slew did it in 2:29 - Big Red did it in 2:24 - If I'll Have Another can run between those numbers then he will be in great company. I hope he does it.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Prove Out did it in 2:25:80 beating Secretariat going away. Put asterisks next to all the 1973 souped up time records. They are invalid, just like the number of home runs hit by Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa. He will run between 2:26 and 2:29.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
And Watchmaker makes Cookie 4:5....
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
UNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGSUNIONRAGS EVERYONES GOING TO GET TIRED OF THAT NAME AFTER THE BELMONT STAKES ! UNION RAGS WILL MAKE ALL YOU NON-BELIEVERS , AND FOLLOWERS - LOOK VERY DUMB AND NOT VERY SMART
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
Speak up. I can't hear you.
romeo More than 1 year ago
What happened with the Douglas Rutherford Creative Cause posts for the Preakness Please Justify that selection, Douglas
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Other than UNION RAGS - ILL HAVE ANOTHER - DULLAHAN , there is NOTHING . Sorry , but its just a Fact ! Alot would have to happen , take place - set back , or something , to bring any o the others any closer . ALPHA - ROUSING SERMON are the only possible pretenders !
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
BODE---BODE----Bode, please visit Beyer in his stupor......
John More than 1 year ago
belmont win lol
John More than 1 year ago
if he is ridden patiently in the belmon IHA will.Overconfidence and impatience have cost more than one horse the triple crown. another outside draw wont hurt either.
j'Ray More than 1 year ago
Mario doesn't appear to be the kind of jockey to get impatient or overconfident --his riding style is most reminiscent of Pat Day 's skill at relaxing his mount and giving him excellent chance to unleash the explosive closing speed at the top of the Belmont stretch. All systems go on a Triple Crown winner this year.
j'Ray More than 1 year ago
Is there any other racehorse entered in the Belmont with IHA's stretch-running speed ?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't need speed, need indurance to get 12 furlongs. Two questions are: Can IHA get the distance. Mario who certainly deserves to stay up on this horse, can he handle the distance in his head. This connection has the target on their back for the race of their careers. Jockey spoilers abound with home court advatage. Mario's connections should get him at least 6 mounts of a least a mile on the track before the run for white carnations.
littlelouis99 More than 1 year ago
"mario who certainly deserves to stay up on this horse"?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? no wonder your signed in as anonymous
denali1 More than 1 year ago
Hey Chad that's the million dollar ? Is he still the horse everyone thinks he might be and your right we haven't seen him run the past 2 races. It would be nice to see him get out the gate and into position were we couldn't make excuses for him. To me this is still a real nice colt who is legit and on his best day is capable of beating any horse in the country.
j'Ray More than 1 year ago
Too bad that the horse isn't smart enough or mature to know how to stay out of trouble in the early part of the race. Union Rags is like the Barry Bonds of horseracing --physically imposing , but more bluff&bluster.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually focus on the handicapping, trips of horses, but it's rare where I think this horse has a case of being a headcase and it's not the jockey so much. Just possible that due to such a distance in the Belmont he'll decide to put in a run. I think he lags (not hangs) and there is not much a jockey can do. But at a distance of 12 panels it may be to Rags' headstrong advantage.
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
Union Rags might just be an early developer, and his peers might be caught up to him by now
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Right here Denali... For whatever reason... Rags was allowed to run just a total of about 1/2 mile in his last two races(?) combined. Was he flat stiffed in two straight Gr 1s, or is it just that Leap-a-roo falls back on a horse so badly. They have time now to get jock and horse together - Johnny can pop him outa the gate a few times, a good work and a blowout and they should be ready. We might end up with a horse race here. But just remember - - - Bodes' the best...
Tom F More than 1 year ago
2nd best in the last two......the two that counted. Probably why he's skipping the next one.
denali1 More than 1 year ago
Im kinda amazed how much chatter and complaining i here with these commenters about UR. I am not saying i agree or disagree but i know one thing this horse hasn't had a fair shake since the Fountain. If this horse can get out the gate and have the Johnnie V on his back. He has a chance to upset I"ll Have Another but dont count on it. O'Neill has done a wonderful job and it would be great for the sport to see this group get a Triple Crown.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
But we at last can see Rags have a chance to run... Yes?