It’s usually customary for race fans and serious analysts to start thinking about the Triple Crown prospects of a Kentucky Derby champion almost immediately following that first win at Churchill Downs. It’s been 34 years since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner, so any talk of seeing I’ll Have Another being a part of racing history was fairly subdued. To truly spark the imagination of the public, he would have to take the Preakness Stakes. It’s not that I’ll Have Another is not a respected thoroughbred, but race fans have been disappointed before. Most notably in the recent past when, Funnycide, Big Brown, and Smarty Jones had seemed to be on the edge of greatness, but just couldn’t win that race at Belmont to put them on a whole new level.
At Pimlico Race Course, I’ll Have Another would have to overcome a short, two week window of rest, a great challenge from emerging rival Bodemeister, and the expectations of those who follow horse racing. I’ll Have Another had taken the first step by winning in Louisville, but moving into position to challenge for the Triple Crown, means having to take out top-notch competition for a second consecutive race. I’ll Have Another had already won three consecutive races with his new jockey, Mario Gutierrez, aboard and the parity in thoroughbred racing makes the prospects of a fourth, in a highly anticipated race, tough to imagine. Would I’ll Have Another be up for it? Would he slip up, causing trainer Dana O’Neill and his team to second guess themselves on moving their Derby champion out of Churchill Downs so quickly? Would I’ll Have Another simply be destined to be a Derby champion that would be remembered as such, but hold nothing more for history’s sake? Only the Preakness Stakes itself could answer those questions.
As the field approached the starting gate, excitement was in the air. The anticipation and speculation of the past two weeks were now evaporating as it was time to see which horse would claim victory in one of racing’s most prestigious contests. As the gates opened, Bodemeister again proved that he was a horse to be dealt with as he went to the front and set the pace, just as he had two weeks earlier in Louisville. Also jumping out to the front were Creative Cause, Pretention, and I’ll Have Another. Those four set the pace for nearly the entire trip around Pimlico Race Course. Bodemeister continued to lead easily and as they approached the top of the stretch he looked poised to do what he couldn’t do in the Derby and that was to pull away from the pack. As Mike Smith began to push Bodemeister to extend his lead, Creative Cause and I’ll Have Another tried to move forward. It was short-lived for Creative Cause as he fell back, and I’ll Have Another seemed to lose his stride as he drifted outside a bit. It was from that point that Gutierrez began to push his ride for more and he was rewarded. I’ll Have another regrouped and ran down Bodemeister, making the last 100 yards of the race as exciting as anyone had ever seen. Bodemeister and I’ll Have Another were nose to nose and once again, it was I’ll Have Another who had that little extra left in the tank and took home the Preakness. The victory only heightened the excitement at Pimlico and now serious talk about a possible Triple Crown could take place.
The next few weeks will be full of anticipation and analysis. As is the case with the first Saturday in May, so will it be in Belmont Park on June 9th, that the entire world will be watching to see if history can be made. Owner Paul Reddman, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez will almost certainly feel the pressure as the media exposure and attention will descend upon them. Will thoroughbred racing get a needed shot in the arm that the attention a Triple Crown winner can bring? With attendance records being broken for the Derby and Preakness, it leads one to believe that horse racing is enjoying a comeback with fans and a Triple Crown winner could possibly lead to more fans becoming involved. The world will be watching to see if I’ll Have Another has yet another big win in his future!