Exercise rider Jonny Garcia holds I'll Have Another as he gets a bath… (Mike Groll, Associated…)
Every year, the Derby winner is a combination of the right horse, the right trip and the right luck. The nature of the race is such that there are always many horses who lost but were perceived as having been denied their shot at the roses by one or more missing ingredient. So I'll Have Another still had a lot of people to convince going into the Preakness. This is nothing new.
But what has been unique to this year's Triple Crown, so far, was that the Preakness could not have unfolded any better for I'll Have Another's toughest competitor. Bodemeister took a much more leisurely trip around the track in the Preakness, and opened up on the field as they turned for home. Usually, it is profoundly bad for the Derby winner when the guy he beat has the dream trip in the Preakness. There were many Bodemeister backers who were high-fiving each other on the back stretch and the top of the turn. It was going all his way. Turns out I'll Have Another was still better than Bodemeister's dream trip.
I was one of those that still needed convincing in the Preakness. I'm good now.
So as we head into the Belmont, there is really nothing to point to an upset other than history. And history is just that, history. It is the gambler's fallacy that past events have an impact on independent future events. If I'll Have Another loses in the Belmont, it won't be because others have also lost in previous years. He is the best horse in the race and will have to be beaten.
The two largest perceived threats are Dullahan (third in the Derby) and Union Rags (seventh in the Derby). Both of these horses were missing the key ingredient ? the right trip ? in the Derby. Both ran well when they finally found room. But Union Rags has been using up a lot of his excuses ever since his Fountain of Youth win in March. Dullahan has nothing to be ashamed of in his third place effort in the Derby, but it is questionable that he is fast enough to present a challenge to I'll Have Another. And if the pace is soft or moderate, I'll Have Another will have the advantage of being more of a stalker.
Of the rest of the field, none are obvious upsetters. Paynter won his last start on the Preakness undercard, but that was field of six in allowance company (punching bags). He will likely be part of the pace, but he will have to wire it and there's nothing that says he can. Street Life gets a flattering 12-1 morning-line odds based on a third place effort in the Peter Pan and a sixth place finish in the Wood Memorial. He does have the breeding and a late closing style to help him, but otherwise his dossier is weak. Unstoppable U is undefeated in two starts, but neither of them was stakes company. And of his two starts, the longest was just a mile. Optimizer has run in both the other two legs of the Triple Crown, but has not run particularly well in either one. He would have to run back to his second place effort in the Rebel (March 17th) to be good enough to hit the board. Seems unlikely.
Other than the fact that there are twelve horses in it, the field sets up well for I'll Have Another. There is enough speed in it to keep the pace honest, but not so much that he will be part of a pace collapse. He has shown the ability to rate and the race should come back to him. He should sit comfortably fourth in the early going and have a clean shot turning for home. I'll be on I'll Have Another to win. I will key him over Dullahan and Union Rags and will toss in Unstoppable U and Paynter for value in exacta and trifecta.