Possessing a moniker familiar to infield revelers and non-racing fans alike, I'll Have Another will be a popular favorite to duplicate his Kentucky Derby performance in the Preakness Stakes, second jewel of racing's Triple Crown, on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.
With the shift in action to Baltimore, talk of a potential Triple Crown sweep always arises, unless the results of the Derby are seemingly fluky. From this angle, it appears I'll Have Another's victory was no such thing. However, 18 horses have won two-thirds of the Triple Crown since Affirmed last turned the trick in 1978, which suggests none of the three classics can be taken for granted.
From the viewpoint of one who did not have I'll Have Another on his radar much Derby week, there were general concerns going in about his relative ability and the kind of trip he would receive at Churchill Downs.
Precocious enough to win at first asking going 5 1/2 furlongs last July at Hollywood Park, I'll Have Another was also hailing from Southern California, where early speed is king. Though he had seemingly shed his previous straight-to-the-lead ways with a pair of stalk-and-pounce successes early in the year, I'll Have Another was still likely to rate rather close in a field full of speed types, if he could do so at all breaking from post 19. Detractors could envision the colt rating too close to a hot pace, possibly while racing very wide.
In the event, I'll Have Another's trip was near picture perfect. Away alertly, rookie Derby rider Mario Gutierrez was able to use I'll Have Another's natural early speed to gain favorable position in the opening half-mile. Not only was the colt able to avoid traffic, race in the clear and save a reasonable amount of ground, I'll Have Another was farther off the pace than usual because of Bodemeister's swift early fractions. Indeed, with the exception of a hopelessly wide journey over a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last year, I'll Have Another had never been as far behind the leaders - eight lengths at one point - in his career.
All of this proved beneficial to the Derby winner. With Bodemeister holding a significant lead in the stretch, I'll Have Another was in prime position to make a late bid when the leader began to tire. The breaking point for Bodemeister came in the final furlong, and I'll Have Another had the race won from the sixteenth pole onward.
Possessing the ability to exploit such a favorable scenario, I'll Have Another must be considered a worthy Kentucky Derby winner. However, conditions could certainly be different in the Preakness. Recent Derby winners who benefited greatly from ideal trips at Churchill Downs (the rail-skimming Street Sense in 2007 is a good example) have had more difficulty in the Preakness when circumstances either weren't as favorable or when one or more of their vanquished Derby opponents found better luck at Pimlico.
It would be surprising if Bodemeister were not in the Preakness lineup, although his participation is not official yet. Baffert has won the race five times, and unlike the Derby where no horse since 1882 has won without having raced at two, there is no similar "Preakness Rule" as Bernardini (2006) and Curlin (2007) both won the second leg of the Triple Crown without any juvenile form. Possessing the ability to set a more relaxed pace over a slightly shorter distance, Bodemeister could certainly wind up being the betting favorite again on Preakness Day.
Another thing standing in I'll Have Another's path toward the Triple Crown is the two-week turnaround between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In an era when top 3-year-olds are usually not asked to come back so quickly, and with most major events typically well-spaced, this is an issue that all Kentucky Derby winners have to deal with heading to Baltimore.
After his winning debut July 3, I'll Have Another finished second in the Best Pal Stakes five weeks later. It was another four weeks to the Hopeful, a race he exited with shin problems.
I'll Have Another did not race again for five months, reappearing in the Feb. 4 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. After registering a 43-1 upset of that race by 2 3/4 lengths, his connections chose to race just once more in the Santa Anita Derby, which was another two-month gap in action.
"He ran so well, and my brother (Dennis O'Neill, an adviser to Reddam) and I do believe that if you run a horse back too quick, he can bounce," trainer Doug O'Neill explained to Daily Racing Form following the Robert Lewis. "He does have bounce written all over him. We think it's best to keep him fresh."
Whether I'll Have Another will have "bounce" written all over him following the Derby remains to be seen, but the forced departure from the training philosophy that has seemingly underpinned much of the colt's success is something to be cognizant of as he continues on his quest for an historic Triple Crown sweep.