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Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.

Get Out of My Way

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In the last 33 years, 11 horses have entered the Belmont Stakes looking to capture the Triple Crown, and none have completed the sweep. Five of those faced a valiant rival from the previous two legs of the series. Of those five, three were defeated by that rival, another lost to a Preakness also ran who had encountered an extremely troubled trip, and the other lost to one who had tried the KY Derby and then prepped for the Belmont in the Peter Pan. Of the other six, four lost to a fresher rival that had not competed in the Triple Crown series. The remaining two lost to strong Kentucky Derby entrants that had skipped the Preakness. So, you ask, what does this mean for I'll Have Another? Maybe nothing, but let's take a brief trip back and see if we can find any clues.
Starting from the top, Spectacular Bid lost to Coastal, who had run a huge race in winning the Peter Pan prior to the Belmont, and was a more than worthy foe. While Bid proved the better of the two, beating Coastal twice later that year, Coastal came into that Belmont Stakes in more formidable fashion than any that will face I'll Have Another. Two years later, Pleasant Colony's Triple Crown attempt was thwarted by Summing, recent winner of the Pennsylvania Derby ( at 36:1 ). While Summing was a shade under 8:1 when he defeated Pleasant Colony, he didn't appear a major threat, and we will thus toss him into the " comparable threat to I'll Have Another " box. Worth noting, Summing finished over 27 lengths behind Pleasant Colony when they met next in the Travers ( Pleasant Colony was second ).
It was six years until the next horse attempted the Triple Crown sweep at Belmont, and when Alysheba made that bid, he would be the first of five straight facing those valiant KY Derby and Preakness rivals. Alysheba was never a factor in the 1987 Belmont Stakes, as Bet Twice, runner-up in both prior Triple Crown races, romped to the easiest of victories. However, Alysheba faced more than the formidable Bet Twice in NY that afternoon, as he was forced to also race without Lasix, which was still banned in NY at that time, something that was not the case in either the Derby or Preakness. In fairness to the mighty Alysheba, he raced without that medication during his entire formidable 4YO campaign that ended with a win in the BC Classic. Fair to say, there is no Bet Twice in the 2012 Belmont Stakes....just as there is also no Easy Goer, the horse who easily disposed of Sunday Silence, and his attempt to sweep the Triple Crown two years later in 1989. After running second to Sunday Silence in the prior two events, losing the Preakness by a nose in a stretch battle for the ages, Easy Goer won the Belmont Stakes by eight lengths, and allowing
us New Yorkers to regain a shred of the dignity we had lost during that epic series.
In 1997, Silver Charm lined up against not one serious threat, but two, as Free House ( 3rd in the Derby and 2nd in the Preakness ) was joined by Touch Gold, who ran perhaps the best race of anyone in the Preakness, finishing fourth with a nightmare trip. He handled Free House, but not Touch Gold, though I'll Have Another can rest easy knowing there are no threats like those two in 2012. Same for 1998, when twice second Victory Gallop, under one of the all-time great rides by Gary Stevens, ended Real Quiet's try for immortality by a nose in an unforgettable Belmont Stakes. 1999 was a much different story. While Menifee, second in both prior races, ended up being no threat to Charismatic, the very talented Lemon Drop Kid ( 3rd in the Peter Pan after a 9th place finish in the KY Derby ) did annex the Belmont Stakes. But, with all due respect, it was very possibly a career ending injury that cost Charismatic that Triple Crown title.
In 2002, Sarava beat Medaglia D'Oro, and thus ended War Emblem's Triple Crown dream. However, given he stumbled badly at the start, and was never in a fair position to win the race, I have trouble comparing War Emblem's attempt to I'll Have Another's, who appears neither distance challenged nor a need the lead type runner. In 2003, while Funny Cide was favored perhaps on sentimentality, few serious handicappers were surprised when Derby favorite Empire Maker, who had defeated the NY Bred in the Wood Memorial, slammed the door on his rival's chances. Had that same field lined up in an allowance race on a Thurday afternoon, there is little doubt Empire Maker would have been favored. There are also no Empire Makers waiting in the weeds to face I'll Have Another.
Smarty Jones's failed attempt may be a fair comparison to the challenge facing I'll Have Another. Like Union Rags, Birdstone won the Champagne as a 2YO, and many also felt he was compromised by the sloppy track in the KY Derby, whereas some ( not me ) blame Union Rag's trip for his less than stellar effort. Throw Dullahan into the mix, and compare him to the likes of Rock Hard Ten or Eddington, and perhaps this matchup becomes even more comparable. The same cannot be said for 2008, when unheralded Da'Tara spoiled things for Big Brown, but it was Big Brown that compromised himself, as he was never factor in the race, and no opponent can be used as an excuse for his non-effort.
In review, assuming the consistent I'll Have Another shows up with his usual strong effort, only a Summing or a Birdstone may be standing in his way. Over the next 2 1/2 weeks many will be trying to figure out if that will be the case, and who may assume the spoiler's role.  There's always value in determining that rival, and it's been 34 years since there hasn't been at least one, but even in racing, all bad things eventually come to an end.

Comments :

  • vince raneri | June 05 2012 02:22 PM

    I have been at all of the last six of those potential triple crown winners, major disappointments. I don't anticipate I'll Have Another being any different other than I do not think the field is really that deep this year. Union Rags just doesn't have it. Paynter and Dullahan, on the other hand, are potential threats in my opinion. I think Dullahan would have beat I'll Have Another with a little more space to run. If he is ready, my money is on Dullahan if 5 to 1 odds or higher!!

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