The pressure is mounting and the hype is beginning to hit a fevered pitch. I’ll Have Another is just a couple of days away from becoming thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, or becoming another horse that just fell short. History is kind to those who almost make it, but it’s downright affectionate to the horses that meet the challenge. Those horses become legends.
Three horses have won the Triple Crown in the era of television coverage, and all three of those came in the 1970’s. Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed are regarded as several of the greatest horses ever, and are revered by the passive racing fan, just as much as the hardcore fans. We have seen great horses over the years, but to be remembered for decades into the future, it’s obvious that a Triple Crown has to be on that resume’.
And let’s not forget that Doug O’Neill is on the verge of becoming a Triple Crown winning trainer. If it hasn’t happened already, he would be considered as an elite trainer. Such superstars as D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert do not have Triple Crowns under their belts and the sheer difficulty of winning three consecutive races that are distinctly different from one another is a good indicator of a rare horse, well rounded training, and yes, a little luck. One of the great stories that would emerge, if I’ll Have Another can pull off a win in the Belmont Stakes, is that of jockey Mario Gutierrez. Other than his four wins aboard I’ll Have Another, Gutierrez has only one stakes win to his credit in the United States. That came in the Grade III Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park earlier this year. Steve Cauthen, who won the Triple Crown on Affirmed, was only 18 years old when he tasted glory, and has become a legend to race fans. Life will never be the same for the 25 year-old Gutierrez should he cross the finish line first on Saturday.
I’ll Have Another is on a four race winning streak, which started back on February 4th at Santa Anita in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. That was the first time that Gutierrez jockeyed him and they have not looked back. From there, the competition got better, but he just kept winning. There have been horses that have gained more attention from fans and the media, but I’ll Have Another keeps knocking down victories. What will lie ahead for I’ll Have Another should he win? History would say that he would keep running. Affirmed won six more graded stakes races after he took the Triple Crown. Seattle Slew continued to race and won five more times, including three graded stakes contests. Even the great Secretariat ran in six more races, winning four, after his tremendous run in the spring of 1973. This is a new era though. Large sums of money are going to be flowing around a I’ll Have Another victory, should it happen. Everyone is going to want a piece of history and the stud fees that owner Paul Reddam will be able to command will be staggering. Will that be risked, simply for him to compete again? His legacy will have been written. Not many people remember what Affirmed, Seattle Slew, or Secretariat did before or after their Triple Crown victories. It will likely be the same scenario for I’ll Have Another.
If I’ll Have Another is to be the horse that breaks the string of decades that have passed since the last Triple Crown winner, he’ll need to be at his best and have a little luck. The Belmont is not a race for horses that tire, or jump out to big leads. It’s about pace, endurance, and closing. I’ll Have Another, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez have shown the ability to adapt to each successive race and it’s obvious by the way they have been able to run down the front running Bodemeister in the past two races, that they are capable of closing out a race strong. It’s “show me” time and the sports world is holding its collective breath in anticipation of history.
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