It’s been 34 years since we’ve had a thoroughbred horse racing Triple Crown. That’s the longest drought in history, but I can “AFFIRM” this year will finally bring us another. Horse racing success is not easy to predict, and there are many ways one could choose to handicap a race, but this year is extraordinary in two very specific ways that will bring I’ll Have Another into history on June 9th at the “Test of Champions”, the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes.
Before revealing my guaranteed reasoning for picking I’ll Have Another for the Belmont, it’s always interesting to at least briefly examine the “Holy Trinity” associated with each horse….that is to say the owner, trainer, and jockey. Owner Paul Reddam purchased I’ll Have Another for a mere $11,000. In early February, this horse was not even on anybody’s list of Kentucky Derby contenders. Reddam also saw relative unknown jockey Mario Gutierrez run in the Santa Anita Derby aboard I’ll Have Another and “liked the way he sat on the horse”. Shortly thereafter, he invited Gutierrez to ride on I’ll Have Another permanently. So far, that decision has set history….with more to come. The man can read horses and jockeys!
Trainer Doug O’Neill is a big personality. He also has to keep denying drug allegations (“milk-shaking”-mixing bicarbonate of soda, sugar, and electrolytes to reduce fatigue and enhance performance for his horses), but always says “we play by the rules”. Luckily, any possible suspension would not occur until AFTER the Belmont. During Preakness week, O’Neill engaged with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh comparing notes on rookie studs and top athletes. O’Neill has his horse already settled in NY. “I think he knows he’s a stud”, says O’Neill and “we will continue to train hard, and hopefully stay away from injuries”. By winning the Preakness, he indicated that stud fees for I’ll Have Another have jumped from $5K to $50K!
Twenty-five year old Mexican jockey Mario Gutierrez was a complete unknown at the top levels of this sport before joining the Reddam-O’Neill team, racing primarily in Canada. He was a rookie at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, and will likewise see Belmont Park for the first time on June 9th. His outpouring of emotion following the Derby win was refreshing, but since then he has exuded almost a quiet confidence in his ability and that of his horse…a horse he has said “is the one”.
Let me now get back to sharing my handicapping rationale for this year’s Triple Crown run and I’ll Have Another. As you might have suspected, this rationale has strong ties to the last Triple Crown winner’s run and place in history. First, since 1978 when Affirmed won the last Triple Crown, there have been 11 horses who have won only the first two legs (Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes) of horse racing’s Triple Crown then failed to win the final leg (Belmont Stakes). There have also been 11 Triple Crown winners in the history of horse racing. This year I’ll Have Another became the 12th horse since 1978 to win the first two legs AND (I believe) will also become the 12th Triple Crown winner. The 12th is wild this year and this is the only year this coincidence can occur! Secondly, even more specifically, I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby by 1½ lengths and the Preakness by a neck over the same horse (Bodemeister) …….coincidently the exact margins of victory also attained by Affirmed over the same horse (Alydar) in 1978 for each race. Just in case you’re wondering……Affirmed beat Alydar by a head in the 1978 Belmont. The combination of these two rare coincidences should make you want to bet the farm on I’ll Have Another on June 9th, right? (It’s also interesting to note that Alydar finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races in 1978. Unfortunately, that will NOT happen this year because we already know that Bodemeister has chosen not to run in the Belmont!)
Good luck and you’re welcome!
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