By Mike Curry, America’s Best Racing
Sunday was a travel day for dual classic winner I’ll Have Another: destination, Belmont Park.
It will be at the Elmont, New York, track, known as “Big Sandy”, that I’ll Have Another prepares for his bid to become U.S. Thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
A day after I’ll Have Another’s game neck win over gallant foe Bodemeister in the 137th edition of the Preakness Stakes (G1) in front of a record crowd of 121,309, trainer Doug O’Neill said the Flower Alley colt and his team are ready for the challenge on June 9 in the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion”
“My dreams always ended with winning the Kentucky Derby,” O’Neill said of I’ll Have Another’s 1 ½-length win in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. “They never were followed up with winning the Preakness and going to the Belmont. That’s a new dream now I’m waiting to pull off.”
The new dream continued on Sunday morning with I’ll Have Another emerging from his hard-fought Preakness win in good shape before being loaded onto a van shortly after 9 a.m. EDT for the trip from Baltimore to New York.
“He looked great,” O’Neill said. “He had licked his feed tub. Once we cleaned the poultice off, his legs were ice cold. He had good energy.”
This year, I’ll Have Another has shown both the physical and mental ability to handle the rigors of a Triple Crown bid. He won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) by 2 ¾ lengths at 43.30-to-1 before a nose victory over Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 7. But it was during the pandemonium leading up to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness that O’Neill recognized I’ll Have Another’s mental toughness.
“He’s got the mind,” O’Neill said. “You’ve seen the way he’s handled the attention in Kentucky and here in Baltimore. He’s got a great confidence about him and he’s got the stride of a horse that a mile and a half won’t be a problem. He’s got the pedigree; so much stamina on the female side.
“And, he’s lightly raced. After winning the Bob Lewis [on February 4] it enabled us to give him plenty of time before his next start. He’s still a fresh, happy, thriving horse that just seems to be getting better and better.”
Dennis O’Neill, brother of Doug O’Neill, purchased I’ll Have Another for $35,000 at the 2011 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. spring sale of two-year-olds in training on behalf of Reddam Racing. Bred in Kentucky by Harvey Clarke, I’ll Have Another is out of the winning Arch mare Arch’s Gal Edith. Stakes-placed winner Force Five Gal, by Pleasant Tap, is I’ll Have Another’s second dam and his family includes Grade 1 winner and sire Roanoke.
While O’Neill is confident I’ll Have Another is up to the history-making task at hand, the colt’s connections also face the inevitable media frenzy that engulfs a Triple Crown bid.
“Bring it on,” he said. “We’re ready.”
O’Neill said he probably won’t make any changes to I’ll Have Another’s training regimen during the three weeks leading up to the Belmont.
“If we’ve got a true route horse, which we do, he’s going to maintain his fitness and his exercise. If they can go a mile and a half, they will. And he will.”
Reflecting upon the two classic victories, O’Neill said the experiences were quite different.
“Winning the Derby was an out-of-body experience. It was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.’ ” he said. “The Preakness, the expectations were obviously a lot higher. It was almost like, ‘C’mon boy, c’mon.’ ”
And in the Preakness, there was a point in the stretch when O’Neill thought I’ll Have Another might not overtake Bodemeister.
“He was running such a brilliant race and even if he had run second he would have run brilliantly,” O’Neill said. “You don’t want to run second when you run that good, and I’m glad he didn’t.”
Runner-up Bodemeister was shipped back to Southern California on Sunday, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed he will not make the return trip east for the Belmont Stakes. Preakness third-place finisher Creative Cause, however, could be back to compete in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
“I’d say right now it’s 50-50,” said Mike Harrington, trainer of Creative Cause. “He came out of the race okay. Back to California, regroup.”
Preakness sixth-place finisher Optimizer also could join I’ll Have Another and, possibly, Creative Cause in contesting each of the three legs of the Triple Crown. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he thinks the track and 1 ½-mile distance will suit the English Channel colt.
“I would say we’re probable for the Belmont just because of the distance and the different configuration of the racetrack,” said Lukas, who has won the Belmont Stakes four times in his career. Lukas last took the Belmont in 2000 with longshot Commendable, following three consecutive victories from 1994-96 with Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch and Editor’s Note. “I’d say it’s 50-50 right now. The winner [I’ll Have Another] is a nice horse, but we’re not going to hand [the Triple Crown] to him. He’s got to earn it.”
Preakness seventh-place finish Cozzetti also will be considered for the Belmont by trainer Dale Romans, who has another top contender in his barn in Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Dullahan. After a strong breeze on Saturday at Churchill Downs and with five weeks of rest, Romans thinks Dullahan is poised for a big performance.
“He’ll be a fresher horse,” Romans said. “He’s on track for a big Belmont.”
Trainer Michael Matz was happy with Teeth of the Dog’s fifth-place finish in the Preakness, but he said he will bypass the Belmont. Matz, like Romans, also has another top three-year-old in his barn in Union Rags, winner of the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont as a two-year-old.
“He’s won there before, so I don’t think that part of it will be a problem,” Matz said.
I'll Have Another Winning the Kentucky Derby
I'll Have Another Winning the Preakness