Vinery LTD presents the Paulick Belmont Index: Thrills, Mysteries Await in New York
After the Kentucky Derby, I, like many others, had doubts about whether I’ll Have Another would pull it off in Baltimore. Did he just happen to get the best trip in the Derby and a little beginner’s luck with his rookie jockey? Could he really run down Bodemeister again, going shorter and with a less advantageous pace scenario?
But in the final days before the Preakness, I began to buy into the idea that I’ll Have Another had “the right stuff.” He couldn’t have looked any better or more professional. His jockey was the picture of calm. The colt’s connections seemed supremely confident. And other horsemen said things like, “The last horse I saw that looked this good was (two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner) Tiznow.”
And so, it all made sense when I’ll Have Another appeared in the stretch like a finely-tuned marksman, honing in on his target and tracking him down. Bodemeister ran his race, had the perfect set-up to win, but I’ll Have Another, exhibiting the efficiency, professionalism and desire of a champion, would not be denied.
Now, of course, there are new questions to consider and new doubts to address. As good as jockey Mario Gutierrez has proven in the first two legs, taking on Belmont Park is a daunting task for even veteran riders. There have been countless stories of jockeys humbled by Big Sandy because they didn’t have enough experience over the track.
Then, there’s the competition. Will I’ll Have Another be able to shrug off the late-running threats of refreshed horses like Union Rags and Dullahan? What if the Flower Alley colt is the target this time? Will he still run the same way?
Finally, there’s the all-important distance issue that all Triple Crown contenders must answer. A mile and a half is nearly 17% further than any of these horses have run. Will I’ll Have Another still be thriving in that final quarter-mile?
On the jockey question, Gutierrez just might be the perfect rider for the situation. He doesn’t come in with baggage – previous failures that could create added pressure. And while confident, he also seems humble and unlikely to think he’s so good that he doesn’t need to do his homework on riding at Belmont. If he gets a handle on the track, Gutierrez will likely give I’ll Have Another every chance to make history.
As for the competition, Union Rags with new rider John Velazquez aboard will be a serious contender. It would not be surprising to see a Union Rags-I’ll Have Another stretch duel with the first Triple Crown in 34 years on the line. History suggests there could be other legitimate threats as well. There’s a long list of Belmont winners that skipped the Preakness – Summer Bird, Jazil, Birdstone, Empire Maker – just to name a few in recent years. Dullahan, Alpha or even Rousing Sermon could be one of those Belmont upsetters.
The Belmont is often a grinder’s race (e.g. Drosselmeyer). Creative Cause or Mark Valeski, if they run, could be that kind of horse. And of course, in a race that’s shaping up with little speed on paper, Paynter may try to pull a Da’ Tara and steal away with a front-running victory.
One thing that should not be an issue for I’ll Have Another is the distance. Thirteen of the last 17 Belmont winners claimed Mr. Prospector in their sire line, and so does I’ll Have Another. Last year, only three Belmont starters had the Mr. Prospector influence and one of them, Ruler On Ice, took home the prize at 24-1.
Whether or not I’ll Have Another wins his third race in five weeks, he has given racing fans pretty much all they can ask for: Exciting finishes, a budding rivalry between talented 3-year-olds, a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line, and a lovable jockey impossible to root against.
The next two and a half weeks and those two and a half minutes on June 9 should be a thrilling ride.