I'll Have Another heads to Belmont Park in three weeks with a chance to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner after nipping a determined Bodemeister in a terrific renewal of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. (VIDEO)
Ridden by a confident Mario Gutierrez, I'll Have Another rallied on the outside coming out of the final turn and needed the entire length of the stretch to collar 17-10 favorite Bodemeister just before the wire.
The second choice in the field of 11 3-year-olds won by a neck while completing the 1 3/16-mile distance in 1:55.94 over a track that had played slowly all day.
"On to New York, baby!" exclaimed winning trainer Doug O'Neill immediately afterward.
I'll Have Another would be the first colt since Big Brown in 2008 to go the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with a chance to capture a Triple Crown last swept by Affirmed in 1978. I'll have Another, who is owned by Paul and Zillah Reddam, is the eighth horse in the past 16 years to have won the first two jewels after capturing the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 5.
The 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes is June 9.
Pimlico reported a record attendance for the day of 121,309 for the 137th running of the Preakness. The 13-race Thoroughbred card generated an all-sources handle of $80,463,005. The handle ranked as the sixth-highest for Pimlico’s signature day.
"The great part of I'll Have Another is that any of us could have a horse like this," O'Neill said. "He didn't cost a million bucks. But he's got the heart of a champion, the stride of a champion, and the mind of a champion.
"It took every bit of the stretch to get there," he added, "but it shows you just how brilliant this horse is and how brilliant a rider Mario is."
I'll Have Another, a tactical son of Flower Alley out of the Arch mare Arch's Gal Edith, has won all four of his starts in 2012, each in stalking style. This was the third consecutive grade I victory for the lightly framed chestnut, starting with the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) in April, which he won by a nose over Creative Cause .
Creative Cause finished third in the Preakness, making it a sweep of the top three slots for Southern California-based horses.
The race unfolded much as was expected going in. Bodemeister had to fight his way to the front the first time through the stretch over a forwardly placed Creative Cause and Pretension before settling into a one-length advantage. Jockey Mike Smith kept his free-running colt in hand this time and his early fractions, :23.79 for the opening quarter-mile and :47.68 for the half, were nearly two seconds slower than the splits he carved two weeks earlier in the Kentucky Derby.
I'll Have Another, on the outside of the leaders from the start, settled into the second flight about five lengths from the front as Bodemeister completed six furlongs in a comfortable 1:11.72.
Bodemeister began to inch away from Creative Cause leaving the quarter pole and cut the final bend sharply to reach the stretch in command. Gutierrez, advancing into third on the Derby winner as Pretension gave way, appeared to be thinking about coming between horses but instead guided his colt to the outside of Creative Cause.
As he did in the Derby, Bodemeister opened up by 3 1/2 lengths near mid-stretch. But I'll have Another, under right-handed encouragement from Gutierrez gradually wore down the weakening pacesetter, who was under left-handed urging from Smith, and put his head in front about 10 yards before the finish.
"It's incredible. When I saw 23 and change (for the opening quarter), I liked where we were," O'Neill told NBC right after the race. "I just had faith we would get there.
"We're thinking CashCall (Reddam's loan business), we're thinking Reddams, we're thinking Triple Crown," he exclaimed. "On to New York, baby!"
Bred in Kentucky by Harvey Clarke, I'll Have Another winner was sold for $11,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale. Selling during the 12th session of the 14-day sale, Victor M. Davila signed the ticket on the colt out of the Brookdale Sales consignment.
As a 2-year-old, Dennis O’Neill, the trainer’s brother, bought the Derby and Preakness winner for $35,000 out of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s April sale from Eisaman Equine, agent.
Bodemeister, giving another superb effort in defeat, finished 8 3/4 lengths clear of Creative Cause.
Trainer Bob Baffert took the latest loss with a shrug.
"I felt really good about where he was," said the five-time Preakness-winning conditioner. "He looked like he was traveling nicely. Turning for home I really felt he would win. But the winner is a really good horse. I really can't complain. My horse ran his race. The California horses are really tough."
Under equal weights of 126 pounds, I'll Have Another paid $8.40, $3.80, $2.80. Bodemeister returned $3.20 and $2.80. The exacta was $18.60. Creative Cause paid $3.60 to show. The exacta was worth $18.60, while the $1 trifecta paid $35.40.
It was three lengths back to Zetterholm in fourth. He was followed by Teeth of the Dog, Optimizer , Cozzetti, Tiger Walk, Daddy Nose Best , Went the Day Well, and Pretension.
I'll Have Another, who began the year with a 2 3/4-length win at 43-1 odds in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park Feb. 4, recorded his fifth victory in seven lifetime races.
Questioned about the lack of foundation for his smallish colt coming into the Kentucky Derby, which he won by 1 1/2 lengths, O'Neill now appears to have a relatively fresh horse for his final assault on the Triple Crown.
He credited Gutierrez, an unknown jockey on the national level before this Triple Crown, for another steely ride atop I'll Have Another.
"More than anything, I thank God I didn't disappoint people," the humble Gutierrez told NBC. "This wasn't about me. It's about the horse. He has a tremendous kick. He's more smart than I am. I just let him go."
Waiting in the wings figures to be vanquished Derby foes such as Dullahan and perhaps Union Rags , who skipped the Preakness and would be fresh for the Belmont.
I'll Have Another earned $600,000 for the victory and has now banked $2,693,600 in his career.