Giving in to expectations
Updated: May 7, 2012, 3:02 PM ETBy Gary West | Special to ESPN.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another won't sweep the Triple Crown. There, that was easy. Saying a horse, any horse, won't win the Triple Crown is rather like saying the Frankford Yellow Jackets won't win the NFL title or Warren Buffet won't be "Dancing with the Stars." Some limbs are sturdy enough to support an elephant, should he foolishly choose to step out on one. But if boldness beckons, there are other, less sturdy, branches. In other words, although it's highly unlikely, I'll Have Another just might do it: He might become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the famed Triple Crown and grab all the jewels, moving from Kentucky to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes on May 19 and then on to New York for the Belmont Stakes and a coronation on June 9. That's the branch that beckons Doug O'Neill, I'll Have Another's trainer. "I get goose bumps just thinking about it," said O'Neill, speaking Sunday morning at his barn in the Churchill Downs stable area. "I think this is the kind of colt who can maintain his form and keep it going." The day after his Kentucky Derby victory, I'll Have Another looked "great," O'Neill said, pointing out that the handsome chestnut cleaned out his feed tub, which is always a positive sign. And so I'll Have Another will be traveling, and probably soon, the trainer continued, to Baltimore. "He's just a very special horse," O'Neill said about the Derby winner, "and so now he has a chance to do something that hasn't been done in a long time." Yes, he has a chance to burnish sport's most baroque piece of jewelry, which has been neglected since '78, because, as O'Neill said, I'll Have Another possesses talent, versatility and intelligence. And that's a rather formidable trifecta for any race. He has the classic tactical speed, and that, in a confederacy with Lady Luck and the racing gods, kept him out of trouble Saturday. While Bodemeister sprinted headlong to the front and others indulged in full "Bode-chase," I'll Have Another happily remained eight lengths behind, cruising. It was a masterful move by jockey Mario Gutierrez, but I'll Have Another had the intelligence to accept the direction and the talent to be there. Except for Bodemeister, who would finish second after leading the field through some of the fastest splits in Derby history, no horse close to the hot pace (45.39 for the opening half-mile) finished better than eighth.
Getty ImagesCan Mario Gutierrez guide the Derby winner through another great trip in the Preakness at Pimlico?
And then I'll Have Another had the stamina and determination to finish strongly, running by three horses in the final quarter-mile to win the 138th Derby. And so, yes, he has many virtues, and he's fresh, and he indeed has, as O'Neill said, a chance to do something that hasn't been done in a long time. But here's a step onto another limb: I'll Have Another won't win the Preakness or the Belmont, and three horses will share the jewels of this Triple Crown. The main reason for such an argument, aside from the sheer improbability of winning any Triple Crown race, is that this group of 3-year-olds has more talent than any one horse can dominate. And some good ones will take on I'll Have Another in Baltimore. Bob Baffert was undecided Sunday morning about Bodemeister. The colt's trainer said he wanted to wait a week and see how the Derby runner-up trains before making a decision. But he's a Preakness possibility, and if Bodemeister runs, he'll probably be the favorite, based on his Derby effort. Although beaten Saturday, he gave a superlative performance, leading through three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.80 and a mile in 1:35.19. Bodemeister became only the sixth horse in Derby history to run the opening six furlongs under 1:10, and of those only the second to "hit the board," or finish in the top three. (Spend a Buck won the 1985 Derby after opening up a six-length advantage in 1:09.60.) The imagination almost has to wonder and speculate about what might have happened if only the sprinter Trinniberg, a 44-1 long shot who never had raced beyond seven furlongs, had not been entered in the Derby. Trinniberg pressed the pace before fading to 17th. Baffert has two other Preakness options: Liaison, who rallied to finish sixth Saturday, and Paynter, the runner-up in the Derby Trial. And there are many more Preakness possibilities, such as Dullahan, Went The Day Well and Creative Cause, who all followed Bodemeister across the wire. And Hansen, who chased the rapid pace and held on courageously until the final furlong, where he faded to eighth, will "give it one more shot," according to co-owner Kendall Hansen. As good as he was Saturday, I'll Have Another didn't frighten anybody away from Baltimore. "He's not a horse anybody's going to run away from," said Graham Motion about the Derby winner, "not to take anything away from him." The trainer of Went The Day Well speculated that many could aim at the Preakness. And Went The Day Well, Motion said, might be among them. Other Preakness possibilities include Optimizer, who finished 11th Saturday; Cozzetti, who ran fourth in the Arkansas Derby; Hierro, who won the Derby Trial; Pretension, who won the Canonero II Stakes; The Lumber Guy, who won the Jerome; and Tiger Walk, who ran fourth in the Wood Memorial. And here's another reason to think I'll Have Another won't have another Triple Crown jewel. Saturday, he enjoyed the perfect journey, the dream trip and the fantastic voyage all rolled into a 10-furlong package. Because the pace was so rapid, the field quickly strung itself out, rather than bunch; as a result, I'll Have Another was able to slide closer to the rail and avoid a wide trip from his No. 19 post position. He dropped into the ideal spot, just behind the "Bode-chasers" and the Bodemeister.
AP PhotoConnections of I'll Have Another celebrate the big win.
Saturday, he enjoyed the perfect journey, the dream trip and the fantastic voyage all rolled into a 10-furlong package.
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• Watch the 138th Preakness Stakes
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• Mayne: When will I listen?
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