A strong contingent of horses will attempt to spoil the Triple Crown bid of I’ll Have Another when the 3-year-olds assemble at Belmont Park on June 9 for the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Union Rags , Dullahan, and Mark Valeski lead the prospective challengers three weeks before the annual "Test of the Champion.”
Chadds Ford Stable’s Union Rags will return to the site of his 5 ¼-length win in October’s Champagne (gr. I). He looks to regain his winning thread following a pair of tough trips when third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) March 31 and seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 5.
The son of Dixie Union is unbeaten in New York, having taken the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special (gr. II) by 7 ¼ lengths. He also won the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park this year.
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. The Even the Score colt has a pair of grade I victories over Keeneland’s Polytrack to his credit, having won the Breeders’ Futurity in October and the Toyota Blue Grass on April 14.
Mark Valeski, who skipped the Derby, will attempt to become the first horse to sweep the Peter Pan (gr. II) and Belmont Stakes since A.P. Indy pulled off the double in 1992. Prior to his 1 ¼-length victory in the May 12 Peter Pan, Mark Valeski was second in both the Risen Star (gr. II) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Other candidates include Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams’ Rousing Sermon, who completes the list of horses who are expected to go directly to the Belmont Stakes after competing in the Kentucky Derby. The grade I-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 as well, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the morning after the Preakness.
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 for trainer Bob Baffert, Paynter was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), won by I’ll Have Another. He was also second in The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.
The list of horses slated to make their first Triple Crown start in the Belmont Stakes includes Atigun, 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.