Will I'll Have Another Become 12th Triple Crown Winner?
We’ll all have another chance to see if the latest promising 3-year-old colt that has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness can win the Belmont Stakes, Saturday, June 9, and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
I’ll Have Another is that chestnut colt that has captured the attention of America the way only a colt with victories in those first two races of the Triple Crown can. Very lightly regarded in the Kentucky Derby and then the second choice in the Preakness, I’ll Have Another caught the favorite, Bodemeister, during the stretch run each time.
Ever since Affirmed’s Triple Crown we have watched 11 young horses win the first two challenges in this most prestigious of all horse racing combinations, only to see each of these colts come up short in the long Belmont test.
The most recent of these failures was Big Brown in 2008, and he turned out to be the biggest disappointment in Triple Crown history.
Big Brown was sure to win the Belmont before being pulled up by his jockey, Kent Desormeaux. Then a 38-1 shot, Da’Tara, won the mile-and-a-half Belmont while Big Brown did not finish. That was the only time a potential Triple Crown winner came in last in the Belmont.
But once again, horse racing will be much more than just the sport of kings. It will be the sport for everyone in this nation and many in the world shortly after 6:30 p.m. EDT, June 9, when the field is put into the gate for the start of the 144th running of the very long and trying Belmont Stakes.
No other two-and-a-half minutes of sports action in America grabs the full attention of so many millions of people as does a running of the Belmont Stakes when there is a chance for a colt to take the Triple Crown.
It All Began With Barton
Long before television, when a victory in each of these three races was not yet considered such a big deal, another chestnut colt named Sir Barton became the first colt to win the Triple Crown.
Kentucky bred but owned by a Canadian, John K.L. Ross, Sir Barton was a maiden when entered in the 1919 Kentucky Derby. Ross intended that Sir Barton be a rabbit for Ross’ other and favored entry, Billy Kelly, in the 12-horse field.
But Sir Barton, ridden by Johnny Loftus, didn’t get the memo and just kept galloping too fast for Billy Kelly. Sir Barton beat his stablemate by five lengths on Saturday, May 10, 1919.
A mere four days later, Sir Barton won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Wednesday, May 14.
Ten days after that, Sir Barton won for the third straight time. But this was in the Withers Stakes at Belmont Park, which was sort of a warm-up for the Belmont Stakes, scheduled Wednesday, June 11.
By then people were believers in Sir Barton, and only two other horses were entered in the Belmont Stakes that Sir Barton won handily to become the first Triple Crown champion.
The current Triple Crown has been criticized by some experts, including trainers and veterinarians, for being too severe a physical strain upon the young, 3-year-old colts and fillies entered in all three events. Tell that to Sir Barton’s ghost and you might get one big horse laugh in return.
The modern Triple Crown for 3-year-old colts and fillies starts with the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. That is followed two weeks later by the mile-and-three-16ths Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course. Then comes the hardest test of all, the Belmont Stakes, at a mile-and-a half on the track at Belmont Park in Elmont, Long Island, five weeks after the Kentucky Derby.
These three races were not always run in that order. For instance, the second Triple Crown winner was Gallant Fox, who won the three races in 1930. But that year the Preakness came first, followed by the Kentucky Derby and then the Belmont Stakes.
The following year the three races settled into their present order and have remained in that sequence ever since.
No Easy Feat
The first Belmont Stakes was held in 1867. The first Preakness was in 1873 and the first Kentucky Derby in 1875. The Kentucky Derby has always been run at Churchill Downs, while the early Belmont and Preakness Stakes were held on tracks other than their current locations of Belmont Park and Pimlico.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness were held on the same day in 1917 and again in 1922 so that it was impossible for any horse to win all three races of the Triple Crown in those years.
Actually, the Triple Crown didn’t become a big deal until the Gallant Fox performance 82 years ago. Since then nine more horses have won the Triple Crown.
For a while it seemed as if the Triple Crown would become a rather frequent accomplishment. Omaha won the Triple Crown in 1935, War Admiral in 1937, Whirlaway in 1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946, and Citation in 1948.
But then it was another 25 years before Secretariat, in the most dominating Triple Crown showing to date, took all three races in 1973. He concluded his Triple Crown effort with an astonishing 31-length triumph in the Belmont, setting a record for the race of 2 minutes 24 seconds that stands to this day.
Known as Big Red, Secretariat began his charge to the Triple Crown with a record Run for the Roses of 1:59 2/5 in the Kentucky Derby.
Big Red, ridden by Ron Turcotte and trained by Lucien Laurin for Meadow Stables, was probably the greatest horse to compete in and win the Triple Crown thus far.
Four years after Secretariat’s amazing effort, Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977. Then, for the only time so far, there were back-to-back Triple Crown winners as Affirmed, with Steve Cauthen riding, took the Triple Crown in 1978.
Ironically, those consecutive Triple Crown winners have been followed by the longest hiatus in Triple Crown winners since Sir Barton was first to win all three races.
The 11 horses that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but failed in the Belmont over the past 33 racing seasons are Spectacular Bid 1979, Pleasant Colony 1981, Alysheba 1987, Sunday Silence 1989, Silver Charm 1997, Real Quiet 1998, Charismatic 1999, War Emblem 2002, Funny Cide 2003, Smarty Jones 2004 and Big Brown 2008.
Dark Side of Story
I’ll Have Another has been ridden to perfection so far by a young and skilled Mexican jockey, Mario Gutierrez. Hopefully these two will team up again to achieve the Triple Crown.
However, there is a dark side to this otherwise joyful affair as Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, was suspended for 45 days and fined $15,000 by the California Horse Racing Board last week because one of his horses, Argenta, was found to have too much of a performance enhancing drug in its system during a race in August 2010. This does not prevent O’Neill from working with I’ll Have Another for the Belmont Stakes because the suspension will not start before July 1.
O’Neill may appeal the sentence, which marks the third time one of his horses has been found to have been illegally drugged at a California track. He was also suspended and fined for similar misconduct in Illinois two years ago.
So let’s hope we can all have another as I’ll Have Another wins the Belmont and becomes the 12th colt to capture the Triple Crown.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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