by Gary Stevens, Retired Hall of Fame Jockey
We are nine days out from the Belmont Stakes (G1) and possibly history. Everywhere I go since the Preakness, the question asked by all is, "Can I'll Have Another win the Triple Crown?" My response is, "Yes, if he can continue to race as he has in his four previous races so far this year."
IHA continues to take big steps forward with each race, and it is my belief that he will take another step forward on June 9. It seems to me, from videos and all of the reports, that he has continued on with his strong gallops and appears to be a very happy horse.
Bob Baffert will send out the lightly raced Paynter for the Belmont instead of Bodemeister. I love that he will run because he will insure a truly run race as he has plenty of early speed, the same as Bode. The best case scenario would be for Paynter to take the field into deep stretch so IHA will have a target and not lose focus. I feel in 1997, that if Free House could have carried with a lead into deep stretch, Silver Charm would have won. As it turned out, we made the lead too early and found ourselves in no-man's land with no target and Silver lost his focus.
The following year with Real Quiet, pretty much the same thing happened. I believe if there had been a quality horse that could have led Real Quiet into deep stretch that he would not have lost his focus and would also have won the Triple Crown. There is no question that Paynter is a quality horse. I believe that Belmont Park, with it's wide sweeping turns, will benifit Union Rags the same as it helped the great Easy Goer in 1989. Union Rags stride reminds me a lot of Easy Goer's.
Lets hope everyone stays healthy in the next nine days and thru the running of the race and we should see one for the ages!!