“We got kind of held up for about an hour and a half,” said Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill. “I have no idea where we were, but besides that the horse was happy. He was just looking out the window the whole time. He and Lava Man were together, they were just chatting away the whole time. We were at Pimlico almost two weeks and we shipped in a week before at Churchill, and now we’re here for the three weeks. So far, so good. It’s kind of working out for us, so we’re not going to change that. I think the sooner he gets over the track and gets familiar with the surroundings..... We’ll walk him tomorrow and then take it from there. One day at a time.”
“Bring it on! We’re ready to go. Super-pumped!” O’Neill enthused. “How he’s doing is going to dictate how we’re doing. This morning, he looks superb.
“The fact he’s still fresh and happy, to have done what he’s done in the past few weeks and then show up the day after the Preakness and see him lick his feed tub, have good energy, and be cold-legged and sound, that gives me the confidence,” O’Neill added. “Obviously there will be fresh horses; Union Rags and Dullahan come to mind. They’re fresh-legged and ready to go but we’re pumped our horse came out of this race in great shape. As long as he stays injury-free we’ve got a big, big chance.”
Owner J. Paul Reddam said he hopes he and everybody connected with I’ll Have Another will be able to enjoy what the next three weeks bring.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen between now and June 9,” said Reddam. “I am going to tell everyone to try and keep the tension down. Enjoy it. If you want to be in the spotlight, knock yourself out. If you started singing on David Letterman, you probably carried it too far. But this is supposed to be fun.”
I’ll Have Another would be the 31st horse to head into the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown, one of the most elusive prizes in sports.
Since 1919, when Sir Barton became the first to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, only 11 horses have managed to sweep all three races, most recently in 1978 when Affirmed beat archrival Alydar by a head in the “Test of the Champion.” Five years earlier, Secretariat became the first horse since Citation (1948) to win the Triple Crown, with his 31-length Belmont triumph ending a 25-year drought, and in 1977 Seattle Slew became the first undefeated Triple Crown winner with his Belmont victory running his record to 9-0.
Completing the roster of champions are Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), and Assault (1946).
Beyond the 11 champions, the 1 ½-mile Belmont has tripped up 19 Triple Crown hopefuls, most recently Big Brown, who did not finish behind longshot winner Da’ Tara in 2008. There were consecutive Triple Crown tries from 2002-2004, with the Bob Baffert-trained War Emblem finishing eighth behind Sarava in 2002, New York-bred Funny Cide coming in third behind Empire Maker in 2003, and Smarty Jones being caught by Birdstone in the shadow of the wire before a record 120,139 fans in 2004.
In 1997 and 1998, Baffert-trained horses came up inches short of sweeping the series, with Silver Charm losing by three-quarters of a length to Touch Gold, and Real Quiet nosed out at the wire by Victory Gallop in a dramatic photo finish. In 1999, Charismatic finished third behind Lemon Drop Kid.
Pensive (1944), Tim Tam (1958), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Kauai King (1966), Forward Pass (1968), Majestic Prince (1969), Canonero II (1971), Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989) also fell short in their quest for the Crown. Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936) won the Derby and the Preakness, but did not start in the Belmont.
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A strong contingent of horses will attempt to spoil I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown bid when the 3-year-olds assemble at Belmont Park on June 9 for the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion.”
Chadds Ford Stable’s Union Rags will return to the site of his 5 ¼-length win in October’s Grade 1 Champagne as he looks to regain the winning thread following a pair of tough trips when third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31 and seventh in the Derby on May 5. He is unbeaten in New York, having taken the Grade 2 Three Chimneys Saratoga Special by 7 ¼ lengths and also sporting a triumph in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Dullahan, owned by Donegal Racing, fell 1 ¾ lengths short of emulating his half-brother Mine That Bird when he finished third in the Kentucky Derby. He has a pair of Grade 1 victories over Keeneland’s Polytrack to his credit, having won the Breeders’ Futurity in October and the Blue Grass on April 14.
Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams’ Rousing Sermon completes the list of horses who will go directly to the Belmont Stakes after competing in the Kentucky Derby. The Grade 1-placed runner was eighth in the Derby.
Optimizer, 11th in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness for owner Bluegrass Hall, is probable to take another shot at I’ll Have Another.
Mark Valeski, who skipped the Derby, will attempt to become the first horse to sweep the Grade 2 Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes since A.P. Indy pulled off the feat in 1992. Prior to his 1 ¼-length victory in the May 12 Peter Pan, Mark Valeski was second in both the Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds.
Paynter, a facile winner of a Pimlico allowance on the Preakness undercard for owner Zayat Stables, has faced I’ll Have Another once before. In his second start, Paynter was fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, won by I’ll Have Another, and then was second in the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.
The list of horses who are slated to make their first Triple Crown start in the Belmont Stakes also includes Antigun, winner of a Churchill Downs optional claimer on May 5; Five Sixteen, fourth in an Aqueduct allowance on April 18; Guyana Star Dweej, runner-up in a Belmont optional claimer on April 27; Street Life, third in the Peter Pan; and Unstoppable U, who is unbeaten and untested in two starts in New York.
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On Saturday morning at Belmont Park Godolphin Racing’s Alpha turned in his first timed workout since a 12th-place finish in the May 5 Kentucky Derby. The son of Bernardini, a two-time stakes winner at Aqueduct Racetrack this winter, covered four furlongs over the main track in 49.17.
“We’re not deciding anything yet, we’re just going to watch things and let the horse tell us,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He’s doing great though; good work yesterday, in hand.”
Magnuson also reported that dual Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky is scheduled to work Monday morning at Belmont Park in preparation for her start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap, where she is expected to meet Awesome Maria, who carries a six-race win streak into the 1 1/16-mile race.
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While anticipation for the June 9 Belmont Stakes has already started to build, the Memorial Day weekend races at Belmont Park are not to be overlooked. Belmont will present seven stakes May 26-28, with the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap serving on Memorial Day as the weekend’s climax.
To Honor and Serve, a leading contender for the Met Mile, completed major preparations for the race with a 1:00.03 five-furlong breeze over the Belmont training track on Sunday. The Live Oak plantation homebred has won four of his last five, including his two most recent starts, the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack in November and the Grade 3 Westchester over the Met Mile’s course and distance on April 28.
“He’s had two good works, and he seems to be looking good,” said To Honor and Serve’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bill Mott. “It looks like it’s a good race coming up. Nice horses here, without a doubt.”
On Saturday, Principal Role will carry the torch for the Mott barn in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay, a 1 3/8-mile turf event for fillies and mares. The Sheepshead Bay will be the second North American start for the Juddmonte Farms representative, who won four listed stakes in England and Ireland at 1 ¼ miles and who was third in the Grade 3 on May 5 at Belmont. She breezed five furlongs on turf in 1:00.40 on Sunday.
“The race she ran in the other day was a mile and sixteenth,” said Mott, in reference to the Beaugay. “She was closing at the end. I ran her in the Beaugay because I had no other place to run with more distance. She was ready at the end of April, and I couldn’t find a race, so I used the Beaugay to get started. She’s run quite a number of races at 10 furlongs, and she seemed to handle it OK. It could be the difference with her style.”
On Sunday, Besilu Stables’ Royal Delta turned in her third breeze following her ninth-place finish in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March, with NYRA clockers catching her covering four furlongs in a bullet 47.52 seconds.
“She could run a month,” noted Mott. “She’ll most likely go to the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs [Grade 2, June 16], or she could go to the Vanity the same day at Hollywood Park [Grade 1]. She’s doing very well. She had a nice work this morning, she had a nice work last week, and it looks like she hasn’t lost much from the trip.”
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The Memorial Day card will feature four graded stakes, including three Grade 1 events. Trainer Todd Pletcher could have starters in all three Grade 1s as he plans to run Caixa Eletronica in the Met Mile and Awesome Maria in the Ogden Phipps Handicap, with Broadway’s Alibi under consideration for the Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn. All three will breeze at Belmont on Monday, Pletcher said.
Caixa Eletronica, claimed for $62,500 by Todd Pletcher on behalf of owner Mike Repole in 2011, pushed his earnings comfortably over the $1 million mark when he won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on April 14 in his most recent start. Third in last year’s Met Mile, the son of Arromanches seeks his first Grade 1 win.
Awesome Maria is riding a six-race winning streak, including a score in the 2011 edition of the Phipps. A non-displaced condylar fracture forced her to miss eight months of racing following the 2011 Phipps before she returned at Gulfstream Park to win the Grade 3 Sabin and Grade 3 Rampart.
Broadway’s Alibi, victorious in the Grade 2 Forward Gal at Gulfstream and Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct, was second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 4. Like the Forward Gal and the Comely, the one-mile Acorn will be contested around one turn.
“We just need to assess the breeze and see if she’s ready to run back [in the Acorn],” said Pletcher. “There are 24 days between the Oaks and the Acorn. Or we could wait for the Mother Goose. It’s a mile and a sixteenth, and she showed it’s well within her scope.”