Since Affirmed won horse racing's Triple Crown in 1978 11 horses have reached the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown champion. All 11 have failed. Can I'll Have Another, winner of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, be different?
I'll Have Another ran down Bodemeister in the final yards of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness to win those races. Bodemeister will not be part of the Belmont field and I'll Have Another is a 3-5 favorite in the Watchmaker Odds. Second choice is Dullahan, third in the Derby, at 5-1 and Union Rags at 6-1.
Long-time horse racing expert Andrew Beyer wrote recently that the Belmont's 1 1/2-mile distance is the primary stumbling block, since horses are no longer bred to run that long distance.
There is, however, a belief that I'll Have Another could be equipped to give horse racing its first Triple Crown in 34 years.
Steve Haskin on BloodHorse makes that case quite well:
I'll Have Another looks as equipped as any other horse we've seen since Spectacular Bid. He has the temperament, the pedigree, the class, the versatility, and the tactical speed to excel over Belmont's grueling 1 1⁄2 miles.
Haskin, however, raises another point in discussing how horse racing -- and the Belmont itself -- have changed since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978.
"The entire nature of the Belmont Stakes has changed as has the entire nature of training 3-year-olds. Because we have so many late-developing 3-year-olds and so many trainers looking to salvage something out of the Triple Crown, the concept of competition has changed. Whereas during the Triple Crown decades ago the Belmont Stakes was mainly a coronation for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who pretty much faced small fields consisting mainly of horses he'd already beaten, today's Derby and Preakness winner must face a large field consisting of a number of fresh faces and horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but skipped the Preakness. Add to the number of legitimate contenders those that run just for the sake of running and you have two major obstacles-fresh, talented horses and a cluttered field, often consisting of several no-hopers with little or no stakes experience."
Doug O'Neill, trainer for I'll Have Another, believes his horse can handle the distance.
"You need a horse that can kind of shut it of early, relax and have energy to finish up. He's programmed that way," O'Neill said. "His personality and his calmness have been a huge part of how he's gotten so far."
Can I'll Have Another go one step farther and do what no horse has done in 34 years? We find out Saturday evening.