The Morning Line: 144th Belmont Stakes

I’ll Have Another Has Reached His Date with Destiny

Sports are most recognized for records, dynasties, amazing moments or athletes and the performances of its champions. Even as the glory is coveted through the history of every sport, the same goes for the moments of mystery, losing streaks, heart-break and in the case of Thoroughbred Racing, the Triple Crown drought. The ongoing phenomenon has reached 34 years since the crown was last worn but so has the moment when I’ll Have Another enters the arena. The Belmont Stakes Barn is a full house, the post positions have been drawn, and the Morning Line Odds set so without further ado we bring you the special Triple Crown edition of THE MORNING LINE.

Click Here for the Belmont Stakes Field and Morning Line Odds 

The Belmont Stakes is referred to with good reason as the “Test of the Champion”. The explanation certainly includes the races 1 ½ Mile distance and of course the grueling challenge of winning three races within 5 weeks. The final test is defeating three completely different fields of Grade 1 horses. Every premiere athlete has the capability to have “It” at any given moment on any given day but only a Champion has what it takes to dispel the contenders. So we begin with the challengers looking to derail I’ll Have Another’s bid for immortality.

The 144th Belmont Stakes includes a field of 11 horses out to spoil the bid, a deed that has been done the last 11 times a Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes Champion set out to become the next Triple Crown winner. 3 of our last 5 Triple Crown Bids that made it this far were ended by a horse that ran the Kentucky Derby but sat out the Preakness Stakes – Birdstone ’04, Empire Maker ’03 and Lemon Drop Kid ’99. This is not a surprise considering that the Preakness is the shortest race of the three jewels and that the Belmont the longest. This should also explain why taking a breather between the first and third leg is a logical choice. Also, the 5 week layoff can come in handy when trying to slay the reigning number 1.

Enter Dullahan, 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and Union Rags, 7th. According to the Morning Line Odds as well as the majority of handicappers, Dullahan is considered the more likely spoiler. The main reason is because 1 ½ Mile is a distance that suits him. After closing brilliantly from 11th to win the Blue Grass Stakes, Dullahan fired back with another charge in the Kentucky Derby. As gutsy as it was, closing from the 13th position was just too tough as he ran out of time.

But that’s the big question surrounding his chances in the Belmont Stakes; If they were racing at 1 ½ Mile instead of 1 ¼ Mile then would Dullahan have been able to get by I’ll Have Another before the wire? When considering everything that his horse is showing him Trainer Dale Romans is confident that the answer is yes. Romans has enjoyed the amount of quality distance training he’s received since skipping the Preakness Stakes but only Saturday will prove if he’s ready to enjoy the spotlight.

What Dullahan and Union Rags have in common outside of them skipping the Preakness is something that was also expected – Jockey Change. Trainer Dale Romans elected to replace Kent Desormeaux with Javier Castellano. Taking over the reins for Union Rags is John Velaquez. It’s been widely discussed how disappointed Trainer Michael Matz was with Julien Leparoux so it’s no surprise that he decided to go with a veteran New York Circuit jockey looking to make his first ride on Union Rags a memorable one.

Union Rags returns to Belmont Park, the track that brought him his 3rd consecutive win at the beginning of his racing career. Since the turn of 2-yr-old season however Union Rags is still trying to find it at age 3. What’s drawing the most attention is how he’s handling the traffic. He’s not shutting down, he just simply isn’t firing. After bad trips in the Florida and Kentucky Derby he’s back at Belmont Park where maybe he’ll prove that it was only a matter of time before he found the missing ingredient.

As for the remainder of the field, Optimizer represents the only other Kentucky Derby horse as well as the only other to enter in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Although it’s been discussed that Trainer D. Wayne Lukas believes the extra distance will benefit Optimizer it’s still not enough to consider him a serious Triple Crown spoiler. Another intriguing story surrounds Paynter, a Belmont foe that may be wearing silks that look familiar. While Bodemeister returned to his barn in California, the rest of his team is here to settle the score. The Belmont Stakes can be a long shots coming out party. Dating back to 2008 there have been two winners at odds over 20-1 (’11 Ruler on Ice 24-1 & ’08 Da Tara 38-1). The rest of the field may fall into this category but this should prove that there’s no reason to totally dismiss them.

Sorry for the distractions let’s get back to what we’re all here for, Yes Sir, I’ll Have Another. The memorable journey comes to a head in the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes. It’s the moment of the truth and I’ll Have Another continues to make a very convincing argument.

An unorthodox approach to his pre-race routines, as determined by his Trainer Doug O’Neill, begins with his early arrivals at both Pimlico and Belmont Park. While it is uncommon to arrive so early it’s not something that should be considered. One thing that some may want to consider is the fact that I’ll Have Another stuck to galloping in preparation for the final jewel of the elusive crown. No works, no breeze just long and steady gallops. Only a trainer knows his horse unlike anyone else so this should only be talked about in great detail if I’ll Have Another leaves Belmont empty-handed.

Despite all the distractions, allegations and steward’s demands, Team I’ll Have Another deserves credit for not letting their confidence waver. They remain grounded, humble yet positive that they have something truly special in their barn. I’ll Have Another and his team received even more good news today when they received the 11 post in the 12 horse field. The reason is because he’s only raced from the outside, breaking 19th in the Derby and 9th in the Preakness Stakes.

From the story of a horse that was overlooked and sold at the 2010 September Yearling Sale for $35k to the unknown Jockey that has proven he belongs is still only part of a story that can keep getting better. He has won his last 3 starts with sheer grit and determination down the stretch or in the words of his team it was nothing but “Heart”. I’ll Have Another has come this far and still looks good heading into the Belmont Stakes. He has a legitimate field to overcome but he still hasn’t shown any signs of not being ready.

Good luck to I’ll Have Another and his entire team, fan base and supporting cast. We wish you along the entire field a safe trip and all the glory that you earn. Here’s to a very memorable 2012 Belmont Stakes, Cheers!

Written by: Little Brink


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