This has been a very tough year for three-year-old thoroughbreds that were expected to make a lot of noise in the Triple Crown series and beyond. Injuries and illness have plagued the division and robbed it of its top talent. The most highly regarded horses in February and March are mostly relegated to stud duty now and that has left many wondering which horse can lay claim to the title of best three-year-old male.
If you take the main contenders, such as Dullahan, Bodemeister, Alpha, and I’ll Have Another, you can pick out small reasons to make a case for each of them. Dullahan has a couple of nice grade I wins and a third place finish in the Kentucky Derby to hang his hat on, but overall his season doesn’t have the weight to mount serious consideration. Bodemeister may have been the second best horse in the division, as he finished second in two legs of the Triple Crown, but only has one quality grade I victory this year, so Bob Baffert’s colt doesn’t have a strong resume. Then we get to Alpha, who seemed to be making a strong case with a Travers Stakes win and four victories overall on the year. His performance in the Pennsylvania Derby has likely halted his momentum for the time being and would probably have to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic to have a serious shot. All of that leaves us with one horse that stands above the others in this depleted field; I’ll Have Another.
Owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill may have had an idea of the kind of horse they had on their hands with I’ll Have Another, but the rest of the racing world probably didn’t see it coming. I’ll Have Another had an uneventful two-year-old campaign. He won his maiden race in fine fashion, followed that up with a second place finish in the Best Pal Stakes and was out of the money in his first grade I test, the Hopeful Stakes. As the calendar turned, O’Neill changed jockeys and went with the young Mario Gutierez and the New Year kicked off with a bang as I’ll Have Another dominated the field down the stretch in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. In his next race he nipped Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby, and had officially become a horse to watch as the Kentucky Derby approached. He went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes by continuing his style of stalking the lead patiently until the top of the stretch, which is when he would really go to work. Bodemeister finished second in both of those races and was known for his speed, but if nothing else, I’ll Have Another should be recalled for his tenacity. He rallied down the stretch in each of his four races in 2012 and took home the win every time. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if he could have won the Triple Crown, as just one day before the Belmont Stakes he was retired with an injury.
Even though I’ll Have Another had a very short 2012 campaign, he got the most out of it. He was undefeated in four races, with three of them being grade I affairs. He hasn’t run a race since May, yet leads all horses with over $2.6 million in earnings. In terms of quality, I’ll Have Another doesn’t have a peer in the division, and that has to lead to the conclusion that he should win the Eclipse Award for three-year-old male of the year in 2012.
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