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I’ll Have Another is chasing racing’s greats



Does I’ll Have Another belong in the Triple Crown club with horses such as Affirmed and Citation? With an eye on the weather forecast, we will see.

This week, the big chestnut horse stands at a barn door at Belmont Park in New York on the threshold of a place in racing history where only a special few have gone before. Two months ago, this horse was a nothing thoroughbred (to the experts) being ridden by a “nobody” kid (Mario Gutierrez).

Only 10 horses have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes during the same year since Sir Barton became the first to do so in 1919. On Saturday, I’ll Have Another tries to become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown, and the first in 34 years. It’s enough to make television long for sugary essays like those sportscasters Haywood Hale Broun and Jack Whitaker delivered during the 1970s, considered by many to be racing’s best decade.

Meanwhile, the horse that cost his owner, Ditech founder J. Paul Reddam, only $35,000 when he was sold a second time, frolics unencumbered by any silly questions about pressure or the company his name could keep.

Exercise rider Jonny Garcia galloped I’ll Have Another earlier this week at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner goes for horse racings Triple Crown Saturday. (AP Photo)

Exercise rider Jonny Garcia galloped I’ll Have Another earlier this week at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner goes for horse racings Triple Crown Saturday. (AP Photo)

Unlike a Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee who might tremble at the thought of being mentioned with a Willie Mays or a Mickey Mantle, it is refreshing to realize that I’ll Have Another doesn’t know a Sir Barton or a Whirlaway from a doorknob?

I’ll Have Another, who originally sold for $11,000 at the September 2010 Keeneland Yearling Sale in Lexington, will be standing at Belmont between now and Saturday eating, walking and wallowing with no inkling of betting odds, tote board, or the distinguished club to which his name could be added. And never mind the best part – the breeding barn and his future as a stud. I’ll Have Another indeed.

What a delight — an athlete with no ego, no trash talk, no reason to try to be cool, and no clue about the importance of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, when Steve Cauthen piloted Affirmed over Alydar at the famed tracks in Louisville, Baltimore and Elmont, N.Y.

We are in on something here. Take a pause at 6:40 p.m. on Saturday and peak in on NBC to see if the spirits of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and the others have a new classmate.

Finally, close your Kentucky eyes and pull your imagination up to the table. There was this horse that had raced 17 times and lost them all and was mad as hell about something most of the time. After being sold, the horse was assigned to new trainer Tom Smith and new jockey Red Pollard, who was blind in one eye and also appeared angry much of the time. Together, they would make magic.

After rebounding to win 11 of 15 races as a four-year-old and one of his first five outings as a five-year-old, Seabiscuit finally got his chance on a cold November day at Pimlico Race Course to prove all doubters wrong. That chance was a match race against the finest horse of his day, the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, whose wealthy owner told all who would listen that the little Seabiscuit, who by now was being ridden by George Woolf after an injury to Pollard, had no business in such elite company as his War Admiral. Everyone laughed along with Samuel D. Riddle at Seabiscuit, but not for long.

In two minutes on Nov. 1, 1938, the Biscuit and War Admiral ran a race we have seen only once since — Affirmed and Alydar in 1978. The horses went head to head virtually start to finish. In the final drive of the one-and-three-sixteenths of a mile race seen live by 40,000 and heard on the radio by an estimated audience of 40 million people, Seabiscuit’s big heart held out while War Admiral, the 1 to 4 favorite, faded to four back.

Has the time for another Triple Crown winner come again?

I’ll Have Another.

Worth Repeating

Washington Post columnist Norman Chad wrote the following about I’ll Have Another this week:

“Everyone — even the Taliban — wants a Triple Crown winner. It last happened 34 years ago, and it once happened with regularity: In the 1970s, there was a Triple Crown winner three times in a six-year span.

But this Saturday in New York, I’ll Have Another will turn into I’ll Have Another Disappointment. I can’t tell you the exact place I’ll Have Another will finish, I just know it won’t be first. (As the bearer of bad news, I respectfully ask my readers not to kill the messenger.)

“There are three things that are next-to-impossible to do in this modern life:

1. Beat the banks at their own game.

2. Get a cable or satellite provider to show up in the designated time window they’ve given you.

3. Win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes during a five-week period.

“… In other words — in layman’s terms — I have a better chance of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on roller skates than I’ll Have Another does of winning the Belmont.”

And so it goes.

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