Chasing vs. Leading At the Top of the Stretch
I’ll Have Another has reached the door step of immortality. While that road is an accomplishment alone, it’s only if he can complete the journey with another win that will allow him to relish in the halls of Thoroughbred Racing history. Since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978 there have been eleven other horses that have also reached that same door step but were unable to enter. As in each of those attempts at becoming the next, I’ll Have Another now faces the same analysis and predictions about his chances of becoming the legendary 3-yr-old that ended the Triple Crown drought. The similarities to the years that ended with a Belmont Stakes defeat is the general place to begin but the variables that separate I’ll Have Another is where things get interesting.
Before we begin, let me start by pointing out that the fundamental difference between him and the previous bids that we’re going to break down only goes back to Silver Charm in 1997. While I was around for 2 of the 3 bids in the 1980’s it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that I became so enamored with the sport of kings. It’s because of this that I prefer to compare the 2012 bid to the ones that I remember so well. And if my memory serves me right, I’m drawn to the conclusion that I’ll Have Another is a better candidate for the crown based solely on one very important element when it comes to winning the Belmont Stakes.
I’ll Have Another has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown from just off of the pace but he has never been able to get on the lead until the end of the stretch. Of course Bodemeister had a lot to do with that. However, because this was the way both of his wins unfolded, I’ll Have Another stands as the only one that didn’t have the lead at the top of the stretch in at least one of the first two legs. Prior to 2012 there have been two occasions when that wasn’t the case but both horses were racing in 2nd and just about to take the lead. In ’99 Charismatic was 2nd by only a head in the Kentucky Derby and Silver Charm was in 2nd by a ½ length in the ’97 Preakness. As for the other 5 horses and 12 races, the hopes of another Triple Crown rested with a horse that prefered to be on the lead at the top of the lane.
In comparison, I’ll Have Another was also in 2nd place at this point but never closer than 2 lengths from Bodemeister – Derby 2; Preakness 3 ½. That left him with some catching up to do so instead of leading and fighting gamely to hold place, I’ll Have Another had to chase the leader. An underrated accomplishment is that I’ll Have Another wasn’t pursuing a front running colt that was fading fast and would allow him to blow by en route to a dominant win. Just the opposite. He was really chasing a horse that could very well have been a Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner himself outside of 2012.
While this variable may be a non factor to many, for me it’s a rather interesting way to analyze I’ll Have Another’s chances in the Belmont Stakes. The main reason is because in a few of these years leading at the top of the stretch didn’t stop in the Preakness Stakes. Instead it just so happens that this style failed when it tried to hold suit in the Belmont.
The key ingredient that separates the Belmont from the first two jewels is the lengthy distance of 1 ½ Mile. While a few of our last 7 bids had no chance at overcoming that test, the ones that did may have fell victim to a position all too familiar. It’s debatable whether or not this was the reason they lost by the slimmest of margins but it doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked.
In 1998 Real Quiet came about as close as you can get when he lost to Victory Gallop by only a nose. The year before Silver Charm came up ¾ of length short behind Touch Gold and Smarty Jones later lost by a full length in 2004. But losing a heated stretch duel isn’t the only thing that these 3 attempts of a Triple Crown sweep have in common. In these three close calls they were all racing in 1st as they hit the stretch in the Belmont Stakes.
The Main Track at Belmont Park is one of the longest tracks all the way around in North America. Because of its size it also makes the stretch run one the longest in thoroughbred racing – 1,097 feet. In relation to the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown it means that if you’re on the lead when you get there, you’re going have to hold your lead for longer than you did in the previous two races. You may feel like you’re racing in the right spot at the top of the stretch but moving too soon in the Belmont Stakes can have its pitfalls.
How this relates to I’ll Have Another in this analysis however leaves the jockey’s out of it. In these almost Triple Crowns the jockeys made the right moves and put faith in their colts to carry them through the stretch and into the halls of glory. But in the end, even though they fought admirably, these champion horses weren’t able to hold on. In place of the jockey’s prospective and back to the horses, we’re looking at why I’ll Have Another has what it takes win.
It’s often been said along the trail by Trainer Doug O’Neill, Owner Paul Reddam and Jockey Mario Gutierrez that I’ll Have Another is all heart. That’s one of the reasons they feel he has been so persistent in the stretch and refuses to lose. The strategy that has brought him here has no reason to change so I don’t expect Doug O’Neill to instruct his jockey to race any other way. All Mario Gutierrez will need to do is stalk close and by the time they hit the stretch position him to hunt down another target before the wire. If so I’ll Have Another will take care of the rest.
There’s something to be said of a horses comfort level at this stage of the game. I’ll Have Another has not needed to adapt to being on the lead because he’s never been there until his final strides. When the Belmont Stakes is off and running I’ll Have Another will be right where he likes to be, in the hunt before the final turn is completed. Strictly compared to the last 7 bids, it was that final turn where the most promising bids may have had their comfort level comprised. As for I’ll Have Another, this is where he can make his mark on entering the halls of Thoroughbred Racing history. If his form is there and his trip is clean, I’ll Have Another will stay patient through the final turn before he flips a switch en route to yes, Another Win.
As simple as it may be, this is why I think I’ll Have Another will be our next Triple Crown winner. Winning from the front at the top of the stretch is something that he might be able to do but why risk it. The path that he’s been on is the path that he needs to stay on because his style of stalking close before finding another gear has been a beautiful thing to watch. He should have what it takes to dig deep in the long Belmont stretch and when he does is when he’ll use his heart to get by even the fittest of contenders in the field.
Written by: Little Brink firstname.lastname@example.org