Now that the dust has settled a few days after the Kentucky Derby, the thoughts of most Horse Racing fans usually turns to “Can he win the Triple Crown”? We will find out in about eight or nine days when I’ll Have Another, who is already at Pimlico Racetrack in Maryland, attempts to add the second jewel of the elusive series in the 2012 Preakness Stakes on May 19.
With the exception of five, I’ve known every year since 1980 that after the Derby, we did not have a Triple Crown winner. In 1981, after Pleasant Colony won the Derby, I had a suspicion but after he won the Preakness, I thought he had a real shot at it. As it came to be, the lop eared colt went down in flames in the Belmont Stakes to Summing.
It would be 18 years, from 1982 to 2000, until I had another serious thought about a Triple Crown winner.
Fusaichi Pegasus, with his good looks and his $4 million yearling price tag, in the year 2000 had my attention for sure. Those thoughts were fueled after wins in the San Felipe Stakes in California and in the Wood Memorial in New York.
Sure enough he won the Derby by 1 ½ lengths in 2:01 flat and only Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Spend a Buck, Decidedly, Proud Clarion and Grindstone had won in faster times. I thought this was it….I’m going to see a Triple Crown winner (live)….nope….he was knocked off in the Preakness by Red Bullet.
Having not learned my lesson from prior disappointments, I’ve been fooled several times since as well. In 2004, I thought Smarty Jones was an absolute slam dunk to capture all three races after dominant wins in the Derby and Preakness, but we all know what happened in the Belmont don’t we? In case you forgot, the speedy colt went into the Belmont with a bull’s eye as big as Texas on his back and after being constantly harassed on the front end, he weakened in deep stretch to lose to Birdstone by a length in one of the biggest heartbreaking races I’ve ever witnessed.
Speaking of heartbreakers, Barbaro in 2006 was a shoe in for a Triple Crown…or so I thought. But who could forget the catastrophic injury he suffered that, not only denyed him of a Triple Crown, but some nine months later would wind up but ending his life as well?
But perhaps the biggest disappointment of Triple Crown misses that I’ve witnessed was Big Brown in 2008. The way this horse won the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby were nothing short of breath taking, but the way he won the Preakness was flat out scary.
He laid just off the early pace when, with two horses still in front of him, just outside the quarter pole jockey Kent Desormeaux started looking behind him for challengers. Desormeaux did it again several strides later and again down the stretch but there was no one coming….noone even close. The gorgeous bay colt opened some 8 or 9 lengths on the field and went on to win by 5 ¼ lengths while basically being pulled up. (I found this “blimp shot” on youtube, watch carefully as Big Brown absolutely explodes as he straightens away in the stretch)
Why he ran so dreadful in the Belmont three weeks later might always be a mystery to me. Yes, I know he “didn’t have a good morning” leading up to the race and there were some (for lack of a better description) politics going on behind the scenes but still…. some four years after the fact, I still can’t believe he lost.
Getting back to current year, does I’ll Have Another have the ability to win the Triple Crown? Absolutely…will he? This might be the first time in 32 years that I’m actually unsure. I mean, on one hand, I’ll Have Another is now 3 for 3 this year and has done nothing but run hard, run fast and win. Starting with his 43-1 upset win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, to his impressive Santa Anita Derby win to winning the Kentucky Derby. But on the other hand, this crop of three year olds is deep and talented and any one of several could bounce back and beat him.
2012 Countdown to the Triple Crown:
1) I’ll Have Another– off his Derby win, he obviously becomes the pro-tem leader of the three year old colt division, but exactly how strong is his hold on it? Many believe Bodemeister is the better horse even in his Kentucky Derby defeat and you know what? I can’t really argue with them.
But the Derby winner came out of Kentucky in good shape, shipped to Maryland on the Monday after the Derby and, after walking the shedrow for 15-20 minutes on Tuesday, jogged around the (muddy) Pimlico track on Wednesday.
“He was great. He jogged good. He feels good” exercise rider Johnny Garcia said.
“As soon as he knew he was going back to the track, he was full of energy,” Jack Sisterson said, who is Doug O’Neill’s assistant trainer. “He knows what he’s doing. Obviously, he couldn’t wait to get back out there. It’s as if he’s never had a race. He’s doing fantastic.”
2) Bodemeister- I almost want to put him in a tie for first on this list. His performance in the Derby was nothing short of mind boggling. Not only did he set a torrid pace but he was doing so easily, it looked like he was just galloping along.
I have to question Mike Smith’s ride just a little as I believe he could have done a better job harnessing this horses’ incredible speed just a little better. If he could have, this horse would have no doubt been wearing the roses last Saturday night.
Lastly, it stands to reason that, after the wicked pace he ran in theDerby, this horse only started to tired at the sixteenth pole. If you think about, the Preakness is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby. That, in turn, would give him a better chance of hanging on at the finish. At this writing, Bodemeister is indeed heading to the Preakness.
3) Dullahan– made up a ton of ground late in the Derby to only get beat a little more than 1 ½ lengths. He, too, is heading to the Preakness and I wonder how he’ll do when he doesn’t have to go seven wide on the turn for home like he did in Kentucky last Saturday.
4) Went the Day Well– he ran very well in theDerby also and had a very similar trip to Dullahan’s. So the same can be said for him, I wonder how he’ll do when he doesn’t have to go seven wide on the turn for home?
Both this horse and Dullahan jump up the list of elite three years olds after their respective performances last Saturday and both also have a good chance to knock off I’ll Have Another.
“I’m not sure seeing it that you get a true appreciation for the trouble that he had,(in theDerby)” said trainer Graham Motion, “Every time I’ve watched it, it amazes me how in a jump or two more, I think, he hits the board or finishes second.”
5) Union Rags– call me stubborn but I still believe this colt has a world of talent. He’s just had of world of bad luck as well as two awful rides (one in the Kentucky Derby and the other in the Florida Derby). If you ask me, I make a rider change but we won’t have to worry about that until the Belmont Stakes on June 9 as he is passing the Preakness.
“It’s a long year and I just don’t think it’s necessary to bring him back in two weeks if he doesn’t have a chance at the Triple Crown,” trainer Michael Matz said on Wednesday after watching his horse gallop back over his home base track. (FairHill Training Center in Maryland)
6) Gemologist– his Derby performance was too bad to be true. At this writing, plans for him running in the Preakness are uncertain.
7) Creative Cause– ran about where I thought he would in the Derby (5th) and put in a good effort. When asked if the grey colt by Giant’s Causeway would be going to the Preakness, Trainer Mike Harrington said “We’re planning on it; we’ve got the flight booked, but we have to see how he bounces back (from the Derby)”
8 ) Hansen– for the most part, he disappointed in the Derby after being a nervous wreck in the paddock and rank thru the first 2 or 3 furlongs. The cut back in distance in the Preakness may help a little but I still think 1 1/16’s to 1 1/8 miles is all this horse can handle as far as distance goes.
9) Alpha- see Gemologist in the sense that his Derby finish was too bad to be true (12th) but a Preakness start at this writing is “unlikely”
10_ Liaison – ran very well for the form he showed earlier in the year. Perhaps getting him off the Santa Anita surface helped? Because he didn’t run a step there, but ran a very creditable 6th at Churchill Downs.
Trinniberg, who will only go in the Preakness if Bodemeister doesn’t, Isn’t He Clever, Optimizer, Hierro, Teeth of the Dog, Pretension, Tiger Walk, and Paynter are all listed as possible for the Preakness as well as Zetterholm, Cozzetti, Guyana Star Dweej and Brimstone Island.
I will, of course, keep you posted as we get closer to the Preakness.
Thanks for reading.