After a thrilling, come-from-behind victory in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, destiny awaits I'll Have Another in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, where he will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since 1978.
The colt didn't waste any time heading north, either. I'll Have Another was shipped out of Pimlico less than 24 hours after winning the Preakness.
This seems like a smart move. Given time to adapt to Belmont, a 1 1/2-mile oval which is a relative behemoth compared to one-mile tracks like Churchill Downs and Pimlico, I'll Have Another will be able to get a feel for the track's idiosyncrasies. Perhaps more importantly, jockey Mario Gutierrez, who has never ridden at Belmont Park, will have time over the next several weeks to pick up mounts and get familiar with the track, in particular its wide, sweeping turns. Some Triple Crown attempts in the recent past have come undone due to the jockey's relative inexperience at "Big Sandy," where the general rule of thumb has been to wait, wait longer, and wait a little bit more before making your move.
Eleven colts and geldings since 1979 have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to fall short in the "Test of the Champion." And not all of these would have been unworthy of winning the Triple Crown. Indeed, four of them - Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Sunday Silence and Silver Charm - are in the Racing Hall of Fame. But their foiled attempts show how extremely difficult a sweep is even for superstars of their caliber.
One thing I'll Have Another won't have to worry about is his rival. Bodemeister's running style is hardly conducive for success in such a long event and will not be running, which means a bit of history favors I'll Have Another. Consider would-be triple crown winners who lost to rivals: Alysheba lost to Bet Twice in 1987, Sunday Silence to Easy Goer in 1989, Real Quiet to Victory Gallop in 1998, and Empire Maker -- Bodemeister's father -- who ended Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid in the 2003 Belmont.
Though I'll Have Another need not have worried much about Bodemeister potentially turning the tables in the Belmont, the fact remains that his speedy rival certainly proved reliable both as a target and pacesetter in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. In his absence, the pace will undoubtedly be slower in the Belmont. That could cause problems for I'll Have Another, forcing him to track closer to the pace than usual or possibly getting stuck behind a pace that's too slow.
Defeated Triple Crown candidates like Spectacular Bid, Real Quiet, Charismatic, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones all found themselves in the unusual position of being a lot closer to the pace than they were in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, which in some cases contributed greatly to their defeats. On the flip side, Pleasant Colony lagged too far behind a Belmont pace that was much slower than what he had encountered previously.
As large as I'll Have Another presently looms over his peers, this has proven no impediment for upsets to occur. One only has to look back to the last Triple Crown attempt, by Big Brown in 2008, for such a glaring example. That Big Brown was virtually eased at the quarter pole was as unforeseeable as the fact his conqueror was the unheralded Da' Tara.
This shouldn't be surprising, even to the casual fan who might feel a bit of deference to I'll Have Another would be in order. With its $1 million purse, immense prestige, and slightly anachronistic distance, the Belmont Stakes has been and continues to be ripe for an upset result.
While the composition of the Belmont field will remain fluid for the next couple of weeks, horses like Dullahan, Alpha and Union Rags, all of whom competed in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness, will be on a lot of people's short list as potential Triple Crown spoilers. It might even pay for I'll Have Another skeptics to look for even bigger longshots, as crazy as that sounds. Four of the past five horses to spoil Triple Crown bids started at odds of 38-1, 36-1, 70-1 and 29-1. Of course, with so many $2 win tickets on I'll Have Another likely to be bought as potential souvenirs, the odds on almost all of his rivals are likely to be inflated.
On the objective evidence, there are many reasons to believe I'll Have Another has a solid chance to snap a 34-year drought between Triple Crown sweeps. For professional cynics who have watched Triple Crown bids repeatedly crumble for myriad of reasons over the past three decades, there are reasons to remain skeptical.
Still, if there are any takeaways from recent Belmont Stakes history, it is this: expect the unexpected.