06/06/2012 2:56PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another has 11 to beat

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Tom Keyser
I'll Have Another and his team walk to the Belmont stakes barn on Wednesday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – When War Admiral won the Triple Crown in 1937, there were a total of 32 horses who ran against him in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. That remains a record, one I’ll Have Another will have to better if he is to become the 12th Triple Crown winner when he competes in the 144th Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.

A total of 12 horses were entered on Wednesday in the Belmont, meaning I’ll Have Another will have to turn back 11 challengers, some familiar, some new. I’ll Have Another beat 19 horses in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, and 10 horses in the Preakness on May 19. So if he wins the Belmont, he will have vanquished a record 40 rivals.

“I’ll Have Another is the real deal,” said owner Ahmed Zayat, who will be represented by Paynter in the Belmont after finishing second to I’ll Have Another in the Derby and Preakness with another Bob Baffert-trained colt, Bodemeister. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He ran a spectacular Derby. He ran a spectacular Preakness. But the Belmont is the ‘Test of the Champion,’ and it’s horse racing – once the gate opens, anything can happen.”

I’ll Have Another drew post 11 in the field of 12 for the Belmont when posts were drawn on Wednesday at Belmont Park. The only late addition was My Adonis, whom trainer Kelly Breen on Tuesday night confirmed as a starter. Breen and the owners of My Adonis, George and Lori Hall, won the Belmont last year with Ruler on Ice. Ramon Dominguez rides My Adonis.

I’ll Have Another is the 3-5 favorite on the line of Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Eric Donovan, who makes the morning line at Belmont Park, has I’ll Have Another at 4-5.

Both Watchmaker and Donovan have Dullahan the second choice at 5-1, and Union Rags the third choice at 6-1. Paynter is the fourth choice of both men – Watchmaker has him at 12-1, Donovan at 8-1.

[BELMONT STAKES: Past performances, video updates, contender profiles, odds]

The Belmont, at 1 1/2 miles, is one lap around this spacious track. Affirmed was the last horse to win the Triple Crown, in 1978. Since then, 11 horses have won the Derby and Preakness but failed in the Belmont, the most recent being Big Brown in 2008.

D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Belmont four times and had one of those Triple Crown misses with Charismatic in the 1999 Belmont, thinks sweeping the series is far more difficult than it was decades ago.

“Before, you didn’t have to worry about earnings to get into the Derby. Now there’s a 20-horse field in the Derby,” Lukas said. “These races are hard on horses. You used to have smaller fields in the Preakness. Doing this is a lot tougher than it used to be.”

Still, Lukas said he thinks I’ll Have Another is “the horse to beat.”

“He showed he can beat these horses,” Lukas said. “If he does it going a mile and half, he’s in the record books.”

Lukas trains Optimizer, the only horse other than I’ll Have Another who will run in all three Triple Crown races this year. Optimizer was 11th in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness.

Dullahan, who was third in the Derby, and Union Rags, who was seventh, both skipped the Preakness to await the Belmont.

All the other horses in the Belmont – Atigun, Five Sixteen, Guyana Star Dweej, My Adonis, Paynter, Ravelo’s Boy, Street Life, and Unstoppable U – did not run in either the Derby or Preakness.

Paynter has run against I’ll Have Another once previously. He was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, only 3 3/4 lengths behind I’ll Have Another, in only his second start. Since then, he was second in the Derby Trial, then won an allowance race on the Preakness undercard.

“He has a great mind, but he lacks experience, with four starts,” Zayat said. “He’s as fast as the Derby winner. He has the stamina. The question is – does he have the experience?”

Zayat is seemingly overdue for a Triple Crown race win. He has been second in the Derby three times in the last four years, with Bodemeister, Nehro, and Pioneerofthe Nile. The only time he missed being second in the Derby in that timespan was in 2010, when he had the Derby favorite, Eskendereya, who was withdrawn from the Derby one week before the race and subsequently retired. Zayat also finished second in the Preakness with Bodemeister. But he has a Zen-like philosophy over his close calls.

“I’m not disappointed. I’m 49 years old. I’m hoping I have time on my side,” Zayat said. “I’ve been in the business 5 1/2 years. To have three seconds in the Derby, and the prohibitive favorite one year who was scratched, I have to look at the totality. I’m hoping the game is not over for us.

“I could say, ‘I haven’t won it,’ and be disappointed. But you can look at the glass half-empty or half-full, and I always look at it half-full. I’m optimistic by nature.”

Zayat and Jerry Crawford, the head of the Donegal Racing partnership that owns Dullahan, both have expressed great respect for what I’ll Have Another has accomplished, but think their horses deserve a chance to stop his Triple Crown bid.

“I don’t think I’ll Have Another, as much attention as he’s received, has gotten as much credit as he deserves,” Crawford said. “We’ll do everything we can to keep him from being a Triple Crown winner. If he gets it done, he’s a worthy Triple Crown winner, and he’ll have exceeded all possible expectations.”

Wednesday was moving day for the Belmont horses. Union Rags arrived from the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, while My Adonis came over from Monmouth Park. Both headed straight to the mandatory detention barn that has been put in place just for the Belmont, where Ravelo’s Boy had been since Tuesday, and where the Belmont horses stabled at Belmont Park, including I’ll Have Another, relocated on Wednesday.

I’ll Have Another originally was assigned to stall 12A, between 12 and 14, but he was able to move to stall 12 when stable pony Lava Man was not moved to the detention barn.

“I’m not superstitious, but I don’t want 12A,” said Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, saying as far as he’s concerned, 12A is basically 13.

Except for going to and from the track to train on Thursday and Friday, the Belmont Stakes horses must remain in the detention barn until the race, the 11th on a 13-race card on Saturday. Post time for the Belmont is 6:40 p.m. Eastern. The first race is at 11:35 a.m.

The Belmont will be televised live by NBC beginning at 4:30 p.m.

It was a cool, cloudy day at Belmont on Wednesday, with a high of 70 degrees. According to The Weather Channel, the forecast for Saturday is for a high of 79 degrees, partly cloudy, with a 20-percent chance of rain.

2012 Belmont Stakes Field

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

Watchmaker
Odds

Morning
Line

1

Street Life

C. Brown

J. Lezcano

15-1

12-1

2

Unstoppable U

K. McPeek

J. Alvarado

30-1

30-1

3

Union Rags

M. Matz

J. Velazquez

6-1

6-1

4

Atigun

K. McPeek

J. Leparoux

30-1

30-1

5

Dullahan

D. Romans

J. Castellano

5-1

5-1

6

Ravelo's Boy

M. Azpurua

A. Solis

50-1

50-1

7

Five Sixteen

D. Schettino

R. Napravnik

50-1

50-1

8

Guyana Star Dweej

D. Shivmangal

K. Desormeaux

50-1

50-1

9

Paynter

B. Baffert

M. Smith

12-1

8-1

10

Optimizer

D. Lukas

C. Nakatani

30-1

20-1

11

I'll Have Another

D. O'Neill

M. Gutierrez

3-5

4-5

12

My Adonis

K. Breen

R. Dominguez

30-1

20-1

Television: NBC, 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.; NBC Sports Network, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.