When I'll Have Another chases Triple Crown glory on June 9 in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Bodemeister, narrow runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, won't be there. Trainer Bob Baffert indicated over the week that Bodemeister will skip the Belmont and prep for the June 29 Haskell Invitational.
That is disappointing.
I don't claim to be a horse racing expert. Like many, I follow the Triple Crown races. After that, the sport fades to background noise is a busy sports landscape.
I am, however, a sports fan. A fan of great rivalry. A fan of great achievement. A fan of greatness.
No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Watching the courage of I'll Have Another, chasing down Bodemeister in the final yards of both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, you have to believe he has a real chance to change that.
As a sports fan you want I'll Have Another to accomplish that feat, if he can, against the best competition possible. Without Bodemeister, owned by Zayat Stables of Hackensack, N.J., in the field that won't be the case.
If I'll Have Another wins the Belmont -- and thus the Triple Crown -- with Bodemeister sitting in a stall somewhere resting for the June 29 Haskell, does that cheapen the achievement? Fairly or unfairly, it does for me. It won't change the history -- accomplishing something that has not been done in 34 years is amazing. It's just that after watching Bodemeister and I'll Have Another duel in the first two legs of the Triple Crown it will feel as though something is missing in the Belmont.
Affirmed had Alydar, the rival with whom he remains synonymous. Ali had Frazier. The Yankees have the Red Sox. Bill Russell had Wilt Chamberlain. I'll Have Another has Bodemeister -- only he won't at the Belmont.
The extra three weeks of rest running in the Haskell will provide might be the best decision for Bodemeister. He was used hard in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, leading each race from the start before being run down in the final yards by I'll Have Another. Perhaps the Belmont's 1.5 miles is too much to ask.
The decision to have Bodemeister skip the Belmont, though, might not be the best decision for the race itself. Or for the sport.