Up the Backstretch: Will he or won't he
By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor
(Sports Network) - I'll Have Another is on the doorstep of a history making effort come June 9. The chestnut colt is one Belmont Stakes win away from becoming the first 3-year-old thoroughbred to sweep racing's Triple Crown in 34 years.
Can he accomplish the feat that 11 others have failed to fulfill?
"When you look at the 11 horses that have failed in the Belmont Stakes in their bid for the Triple Crown since Affirmed last pulled it off, you can see an assortment of obstacles there," said racing analyst Randy Moss during a conference call. "I mean, first of all I'll Have Another has to get up to the race in good health; he has to handle the mile and a half distance; and, he also has to deal with a growing trend in the Triple Crown, and that is those horses that run in the Kentucky Derby then skip the Preakness Stakes to freshen up, and lie in wait in the Belmont Stakes. We've got Union Rags, Dullahan, and Alpha (since withdrawn), who are three horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby that are following that exact pattern. So there are no shortage of obstacles facing I'll Have Another. But clearly if he holds form and he runs the race in the Belmont that he ran in the Preakness Stakes, it's his race to lose."
We've seen different horses come into the Belmont Stakes with a chance to make history. Four years ago Big Brown was the unbeatable colt who somehow failed to fire during the race. In 2004 Smarty Jones was forced to take the lead earlier than expected and was run down in the stretch by Birdstone.
Smarty Jones' jockey Stewart Elliott was blamed for his ride during the 136th Belmont Stakes. The 1 1/2 mile track is unusual compared to the rest of the racetracks in North America, making it difficult for a jockey unfamiliar with the layout to gauge distances.
"With Smarty Jones in 2004 there were people who were critical of Stewart Elliott as well. But the horse was pretty keen going into the back stretch." Moss said. "It was a very slow opening quarter and when the pressure got ratcheted up on him, the horse just got very, very eager and I think Stewart Elliott had a choice of either wrestling with Smarty Jones or letting the horse do what he wanted to do. And I can't fault him for giving Smarty Jones his head and not fighting him. So I think that the jockey angle of it, as far as jockey error as it pertains to Belmont Park, has been a bit overrated. Having said that, I think Mario Gutierrez obviously needs to ride at Belmont Park to familiarize himself with the oval, because it is unusual in that it's a mile and a half in circumference. The poles are all in different places. But he's a professional and there's no reason to think that he won't be able to handle that."
Ron Turcotte, Secretariat's jockey, believes I'll Have Another's rider Mario Gutierrez can get the job done.
"I don't think it will be no problem at all," Turcotte noted. "I watch Mario ride and he's a very cool rider. The horse -- his horse is relaxed, and I think he can place him pretty well where he wants to. And I really like the horse. I like Mario riding him. I guess it would be some advantage if he did ride a few races before, but regardless where he's going to ride, it's not going to be a mile and a half."
So much goes into winning horse races, let alone the Triple Crown. We've seen bad luck befall odds-on favorites, great stretch duels that resulted in upsets too close for the naked eye and simply bad races.
I'll Have Another is the type of horse that looks to be able to handle most any kind of race. If all the jockeys and horses run honest races on June 9 I'll Have Another can come away with victory.
06/01 11:56:51 ET