By Evan Hammonds and Jack Shinar
Reddam Racing's I'll Have Another , bidding to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown June 9 in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), will break from post 11. Made the 4-5 morning-line favorite, I'll Have Another will again be ridden by Mario Gutierrez.
I'll Have Another will face 11 rivals in the 12-furlong Belmont and again has drawn to the outside of most of his fellow 3-year-olds.
The son of Flower Alley was the first horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) to win after breaking from post 19 at Churchill Downs. In the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), I'll Have Another came from post 9 in an 11-horse line-up at Pimlico Race Course. He narrrowly defeated Bodemeister in both races.
"It's been an unbelievable ride," O'Neill said immediately after the post position draw. He expressed satisfaction with I'll Have Another's post for the Belmont.
"I think we've stayed focused on this great journey with I'll Have Another," O'Neill added. "He's doing great. He's contined to gallop great, his appetite has remained strong. He's handled this whole journey as good as a horse can. His flesh remains good, his coat is shining."
As far as strategy is concerned, O'Neill said he would "huddle up and talk" it over with jockey Mario Gutierrez.
"If they're crawling, hopefully we'll be leading the crawl." he said. "If they're flying, we'll hopefully be sitting in behind the horses that are flying. Mario is such a confident rider, he's so confident with I'll Have Another. They get along so well."
"It's once in a lifetime," Gutierrez said of the Triple Crown opportunity. He said that he's had the opportunity to exercise a horse over the massive Belmont Park layout. "I'm just trying to have fun," he said.
The 5-1 second choice on the morning line is Donegal Racing's Dullahan, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) this spring and a closing third in the Derby. Trained by Dale Romans, the son of Even the Score will be ridden by Javier Castellano. He broke from post 5 in the Derby, and will break from post 5 in the Belmont.
Dullahan's owner Jerry Crawford noted how close his colt came to winning the Derby, in which he was defeated by 1 3/4 lengths after a disastrous start. Poking a bit of fun, he noted Dullahan's sire is Even the Score. "Kind of catchy, don't you think?" he kidded.
He also congratulated I'll Have Another's connections on getting the cover shot in Sports Illustrated, known for being a jinx over the years.
But he added: "I don't think I'll Have Another has gotten the attention he deserves. Bodemeister was spectacular in both races but I'll Have Another has found a way to beat him in both races. If he succeeds, I'll Have Another not only would he be a worthy Triple Crown winner but he will have exceeded all possible expectations."
Ahmed Zayat, owner of Bodemeister, will be represented by Paynter (8-1) in the Belmont. Both colts are trained by Bob Baffert. Paynter, who was a good fourth behind I'll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) in just his second start, is coming off a 5 3/4-length romp in an allowance race at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness undercard May 19.
Zayat said he's not sure if Paynter will go to the front in the Belmont, though he is usually placed on the lead.
"He's probably more versatile than he has shown," he said.
As far as losing twice to I'll Have Another in spite of tremendous efforts from Bodemeister, Zayat said: "I don't think 'disappointing' is actually the right word. Our colt ran his heart out in the Derby. We have an incredible horse, but I'll Have Another is a true champion.
"You really appreciate the game more (after such defeats), how hard it is. In the Preakness we were just beat by a better horse, fair and square. I've always thought Bodemeister was a very nice colt but from day one, Bob Baffert thought Paynter was the better horse."
Chad Brown, trainer of Street Life (12-1), said, "There's some good horses in there but obviously I'll Have Another is for real. Our horse will have to run the race of his life to beat him."
The late-running Street Life is coming off a third-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) May 12 at Belmont. Brown said he expects the son of Street Sense to be closer to the leaders in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas seeks his fifth Belmont Stakes victory with Optimizer (20-1), who along with I'll Have Another, would be the only other horse to run in all three jewels of the Triple Crown.
"I'm surprised how warm and fuzzy the guys are before a million dollar race," Lukas said of the connections of the horses attempting to spoil I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid. "I wonder if they'll be warm and fuzzy at 6:30 (Saturday), we'll see."
Optimizer ran 11th in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness.
Lukas was sporting a large contusion on his forehead after he was kicked by his horse Hamazing Destiny on June 5. He was treated at a hospital and released after getting an unspecified number of stiches.
"I've got a severe headache," Lukas said, before jokingly adding, "but I got a date with the head nurse and sold horses to two doctors."
As far as a Triple Crown is concerned, Lukas noted, "It would be a big boost for all of us. We've got a great chance with a great horse that could do it. The Triple Crown has become so elusive. It's no longer a three-race series. I'll Have Another is going for five big ones. They faced full fields in the Derby and Preakness. When Calumet was winnig all those races, they were facing five- and six-hores fields. It's a lot tougher than it used to be."
Union Rags , who finished seventh as the 5-1 second choice in the Derby, will break from post 3 under new rider John Velazquez. Union Rags, winner over the track last year in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), is the 6-1 third choice.
"Obviously we've been a little disappointed but we feel that Union Rags hasn't really run his race (this year)," said owner Phyllis Wyeth. "We think he can do the mile-and-a-half and he's training vey, very, well. We're all very confident."
Belmont Stakes (gr. I), $1,000,000, June 9, 3-year-olds, 1 1/2 miles, all horses carry 126 pounds
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML
1. Street Life, Jose Lezcano, Chad Brown, 12-1
2. Unstoppable U, Junior Alvarado, Ken McPeek, 30-1
3. Union Rags, John Velazquez, Michael Matz, 6-1
4. Atigun, Julien Leparoux, Ken McPeek, 30-1
5. Dullahan, Javier Castellano, Dale Romans, 5-1
6. Ravelo's Boy, Alex Solis, Manuel Azpurua, 50-1
7. Five Sixteen, Rosie Napravnik, Dominick Schettino, 50-1
8. Guyana Star Dweej, Kent Desormeaux, Doodnauth Shivmangal, 50-1
9. Paynter, Mike Smith, Bob Baffert, 8-1
10. Optimizer, Corey Nakatani, D. Wayne Lukas, 20-1
11. I'll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez, Doug O'Neill, 4-5
12. My Adonis, Ramon Dominguez, Kelly Breen, 20-1
I'll Have Another will attempt to become racing's 12th winner of the Triple Crown and first since Affirmed in 1978. Eleven have come to the "Test of the Champion" with a shot at the Crown since and gone home empty handed.
Two of the bids featured 12-horse fields, and three attempts were made when 11 3-year-olds faced the starter:
Spectacular Bid finished third at 3-10 while facing seven horses in 1979.
Pleasant Colony was third at 4-5 against 10 foes in 1981.
Alysheba ran fourth of nine as the 4-5 favorite in 1987.
Sunday Silence (9-10) finished second to Easy Goer in a 10-horse Belmont in 1989.
Silver Charm finished second as the even-money favorite while facing six sophomores in 1997.
Real Quiet was beaten a nose by Victory Gallop as the 4-5 choice in a 11-horse field in 1998.
Charismatic was third as the 8-5 favorite while facing 11 foes in 1999.
War Emblem was eighth at 6-5 against 10 foes in 2002.
Funny Cide faded to finish third in the slop at even-money against just five in 2003.
Smarty Jones was 3-10 and ran second in a nine-horse field in 2004.
Big Brown was pulled up in nine-horse field in 2008 as the 3-10 favorite.