The horse racing World talked about the potential for I’ll Have Another to capture the triple crown for the first time in 34 years after his improbable win in the Kentucky Derby on May 5th. His big run down the middle of the stretch to defeat Bodemeister was simply incredible. It was the first Derby win for owners Reddam Racing, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. What makes this story so intriguing is the horse was sold as a yearling to original owner Victor Davila for just $11,000. Last April, Davilla sold I’ll Have Another to Reddam for $35,000. That is a steal considering many horses expected to make a run in the Derby go for 6 figures. In some cases horses can and have gone for 7 figures. How do you think Davilla feels now? My goodness.
Since the win at Churchill Downs, the spotlight has gone to Doug O’Neill more than they probably hoped. He’s been given praise for his training of this colt, but also a lot of criticism due to his allegations of giving horses an illegal performance enhancing mixture, also known as a “milkshake”.
For the jockey, Mario Gutierrez was running in his first ever Derby and crazy enough he won. Some jockeys have been in the race several times and have yet to win. We’ve all heard his story from poverty in Mexico, to stardom in Vancouver, BC to getting his first serious mounts for the O’Neill barn aboard I’ll Have Another in February. Next thing you know, he is on top of the jockey World.
The trio won again two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes on May 19 as I’ll Have Another had to dig in even more this time around to nip Bodemeister at the wire by a neck. The spotlight on all three, as well as, the scrutiny over O’Neill and his allegations became more intense. To make matters worse, the California racing board suspended O’Neill for 45 days for an incident that occurred two years ago. The suspension will not happen until after the Belmont Stakes on June 9. However, O’Neill will appeal the decision, but declined to deal with it as his focus is obviously on the Belmont Stakes.
Throughout all of the drama over the last few weeks, O’Neill has kept to his original stance that he is not guilty of these allegations. Also claiming that if anyone wanted to spend the week and watch him train horses, they are more than welcome. I’d say his focus is quite impressive with all of this staring him straight in the eye.
I’ll Have Another will take on 11 other horses on Saturday to try and complete his quest to become just the 12th horse ever to win the triple crown. The last time was Affirmed in 1978 when he defeated Alydar in all three triple crown races. Unfortunately, we will not have the pleasure of seeing Bodemeister get redemption versus I’ll Have Another. Instead, we have two other colts that have legitimate chances of derailing triple crown hopes.
The somewhat forgotten Union Rags came into 2012 as the top ranked three year old. Despite losing to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, many felt he would be the horse to beat as Hansen would not prefer the longer distances. The latter held true but Union Rags has not lived up to expectations. He started the year very well with a win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). Since then, he finished an uninspired 3rd in the Florida Derby and 7th in the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, he was pinched at the start, squeezed twice on the back stretch and far turn, then steadied as he went to make a move at the top of the stretch. The 20 horse field will do that to horses and unfortunately it happened to him. The bypass of the Preakness is a great move by trainer Michael Matz. Keep him fresh and get this horse back on track (no pun). Belmont Park is the location where he had one of his best races to date. He won the Champagne Stakes (G1) last October by 5 1/4 lengths over Alpha. This horse should not be taken lightly and has the ability to win this race.
Dullahan is the other major threat to I’ll Have Another. Despite going 7 wide on the far turn and turn for home, his late running style had him very close to catching Bodemeister for 2nd place (neck) in the Derby. Prior to that, he won the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland. He too bypassed the Preakness and the fresh legs for him and Union Rags could prove to be the difference. The 1 1/2 miles distance should go in his favor as long as their is some pace on the front end early.
In my opinion, this is a three horse race. I’ll Have Another deserves all the credit for his performance thus far. Union Rags and Dullahan will give him everything they have to try and avoid the sweep of the triple crown horses.