Here’s a look at what some media outlets are saying about I’ll Have Another and his shot at the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
* Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News says the speed numbers of Union Rags, who expected to contend in the Kentucky Derby as the second favorite, aren’t enough to match up with I’ll Have Another in the Belmont:
When I’ll Have Another had to run faster than he ever had to win [the Preakness], he did it, getting a career-best 109 Beyer speed figure. Union Rags’ best number is 95. At the Preakness distance of a mile and three-sixteenths, that equates to about 8 lengths difference.
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The mile and a half Belmont is 550 yards longer than the Preakness. There is really no way to know which horses will be able to handle a distance they have never tried before and will never try again.
If I’ll Have Another manages to run a similar figure he ran Saturday, can anybody beat him?* Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde believes I’ll Have Another’s bid at a Triple Crown will end the same way so many have ended. With the way modern horse racing is, the horse isn’t built to last:
I'll Have Another is a game and talented runner, but he's not ready to join the list of greats yet.
The bottom line is this: only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown for good reason – it's hard to do. And given the state of modern thoroughbreds, the task is harder now than ever.
It will take a superlative animal to do it. I'll Have Another is a great story, but probably not a great enough horse to win the Belmont. The Triple Crown tease seems destined to continue.* Tom Pedulla of USA Today cites former jockey Steve Cauthen, the last rider to win a Triple Crown, who says I’ll Have Another has the heart and drive to get it done at the Belmont Stakes. The storyline on jockey Mario Gutierrez draws a likeness to Affirmed’s sweep in 1978, he says:
"Affirmed got it because he is tough and has heart. This horse is tough and has heart," Cauthen said. "When the battle is enjoined, it looks like he enjoys it."
Cauthen, who grabbed the national spotlight at 18, observes other similarities in the story lines.
"They found this new kid like me in the day," he said. "They believed in him, and he can ride. He obviously fits the horse, and the horse responds to him."
* The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Eric Crawford says that while I’ll Have Another’s story is incredible, the controversy surrounding him will only intensify as the Belmont approaches.
The I’ll Have Another team could be walking into a media circus, and O’Neill knows it. He responded to a question about how he’ll handle the increased scrutiny with a quick quip:
“There’s a good chance I might change my phone number. But it’s one of those (situations) that I’m just so proud of this horse. Like Mario said, it’s all about the horse. The horse is way up here. We just take care of him. We love him, and it’s all about the horse. Any attention on me I just want to deflect and just focus on the Reddams and their horse and the Belmont.”
* Joe Drape of the New York Times says that I’ll Have Another has the ability to win the Triple Crown, but close to a dozen horses, some well rested, will be gunning for him and will make that elusive third jewel that much more difficult to grab.
Mostly, however, I’ll Have Another will need some luck. He needs to stay healthy and comfortable. He needs to be ready to face as many as 12 rivals.
Among the likely competitors are the Derby’s third-place finisher, Dullahan, and Union Rags, who also skipped the Preakness after enduring a troubled trip in Louisville. For now, however, the wait is on.
“We’ll maintain the same type of exercise that he’s had,” O’Neill said. “There’s the old line about you can’t take a sprinter and train him two miles and make a router out of him and you can’t take a router and work them three-eighths every week and make a sprinter out of him.”