For the first time in his career, I’ll Have Another will take on the morning line favorite’s role as he faces 11 other 3-year-olds vying to play the role of Triple Crown spoiler in the 144th Belmont Stakes.
The chestnut colt, undefeated in four starts this year, was made the 4-5 choice on the morning line by Eric Donovan, oddsmaker for The New York Racing Association (NYRA).
“Every race, the expectations get a little higher when you succeed, so that’s a good place to be,” said Doug O’Neill of the odds.
Saturday, I’ll Have Another will leave from post position 11, which since 1905 has produced two Belmont winners – Sarava, whose victory at 70-1 came at the expense of Triple Crown hopeful War Emblem in 2002; and Conquistador Cielo, the first of trainer Woody Stephens’ five straight Belmont winners in 1982.
In the Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another became the first horse to win the Run for the Roses from post 19 at Churchill Downs, and in the Preakness he left from post position 9 in an 11-horse field.
“We’ve been toward the outside in the other two Triple Crown races, so it’s a good spot to be in,” said O’Neill.
Aboard I’ll Have Another as he attempts to make racing history will be Mario Gutierrez in his first Belmont Stakes. The 25-year-old, who spent most of his career at tiny Hastings Park in Vancouver, Canada, piloted I’ll Have Another for the first time in their 43-1 upset in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Since then, he's since drawn rave reviews for his confident rides in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
“He just has so much confidence in the horse,” said owner J. Paul Reddam, who on the advice of O’Neill’s brother, Dennis, purchased I’ll Have Another as a 2-year-old for $35,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales.
I’ll Have Another will be facing the most opponents encountered by a Triple Crown hopeful since Charismatic finished third in a field of 12 in 1999.
Heading the challengers Saturday are a pair of Derby veterans who have had five weeks to recover from the rigors of the race – Dullahan, who finished third at Churchill Downs, and Union Rags, who was seventh.
Dullahan, who was made the morning-line second choice at 5-1, is the only horse besides I’ll Have Another with more than one grade I win -- and those two wins are the only ones of his career. He took the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity last year and the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass in April. Both races were over the synthetic surface at Keeneland, but the half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird showed an affinity for the Belmont Park main track with a bullet :45.97 breeze on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” said his trainer, Dale Romans, who will give a leg up to Javier Castellano for the Belmont. “I want to walk out of here with 120,000 people booing me.”
Owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, Dullahan drew post position 5.
After a brilliant 2-year-old campaign that included a victory in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park and a four-length victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, Union Rags’ connections were hoping it would be their colt who would be taking a shot at the Triple Crown. But the Dixie Union colt had a terrible trip in the Derby, where he was pinched back at the start, steadied on the first turn and steadied again when a horse stopped in front of him. The decision was made to skip the Preakness to await the Belmont.
“I really thought this horse could win the Triple Crown, but everything went the wrong way, and we had to make a new plan,” said Michael Matz, who trains Union Rags for Phyllis Wyeth’s Chadds Ford Stable. “I think I’m trying to showcase my horse a bit. It was unfortunate he didn’t have the opportunity in the Derby, for him, and his owner. She’s a wonderful person.”
Union Rags, who drew post 3, was listed at 6-1 on the morning line for the Belmont, in which he will be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez. A four-time riding champion on the NYRA circuit, Velazquez won the 2007 Belmont aboard the filly Rags to Riches.
Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat, whose favored Bodemeister was beaten by I’ll Have Another in the Derby and Preakness, hope to turn the tables with the lightly raced but promising Paynter, who's 8-1 on the morning line.
The son of Awesome Again, a $325,000 yearling purchase, is 2-1-0 from four starts, with a maiden and allowance win bracketing a second in the Grade III Derby Trial and a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. Paynter earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure for his 5 3/4-length allowance victory at 1 1/16 mile on Preakness day at Pimlico, highest among I’ll Have Another’s Belmont rivals.
“If you asked me personally, I always thought Bodemeister is a very nice colt,” said Zayat. “Bob Baffert, day 1, thought Paynter was the better horse. He thinks he’s a really, really nice horse.”
Paynter, who drew post 9, will be ridden by Mike Smith, winner of the 2010 Belmont aboard Drosselmeyer.
Starting from the rail is Street Life, most recently third in the Grade II Peter Pan at Belmont on May 12, in which he sported blinkers for the first time. Trained by Chad Brown, the son of Street Sense has two victories in five starts, both coming over Aqueduct’s inner dirt course.
“He’s getting more mature. He’s getting sharper every day I see him training out there, said Brown, who trains Street Life for Magnolia Racing and Hidden Brook Farm. “I think that he’s going to evolve into a more versatile horse, you’re going to see. Whether it’s Saturday or not, I don’t know, but as he matures, he will.”
Jose Lezcano will ride Street Life, 12-1 on the morning line.
D. Wayne Lukas will be trying for his fifth Belmont victory with 20-1 shot Optimizer, who will be the only other horse besides I’ll Have Another to have run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, having finished eleventh in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness.
“My Belmont winners, I thought all of them, or even the ones that were close, fit the course and fit the scenario of what the competition could do or couldn't do,” said Lukas. He won the Belmont in 1999 with Commendable ($39.60), 1996 with Editor’s Note ($13.60), 1995 with Thunder Gulch ($5.00) and 1994 with Tabasco Cat ($8.00). “So it's not a big stretch for us to run this horse.
“I think he’s a better fit (than in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness), but I’m realistic. There’s better horses in the race, but the times that I have won it, there were better horses in the race then, too. So, we’ll see. I think we’re a good fit.”
Corey Nakatani will ride Optimizer, 20-1 on the morning line, from post 10.
Hoping to become the first owners to win back-to-back editions of the Belmont since Meadow Stable won in 1972-1973 with Riva Ridge and Secretariat are George and Lori Hall, who won last year’s running with Ruler On Ice. They return with My Adonis.
Most recently third in the Canonero II at Pimlico on May 5, My Adonis was second in the Grade III Gotham to Hansen and third to Algorithms in the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
“We think he’s got some class, and even though some of his races were disappointing, we think he’s shown enough talent that we can make a case that he belongs in the field,” said George Hall. “Of course we have incredible memories of the Belmont, so just being in the paddock will be a privilege. But, again, we wouldn’t do it just for the sake of doing it if we didn’t think we had a horse with enough class.”
At 20-1, My Adonis drew post 12 under two-time defending Eclipse Champion jockey Ramon Dominguez.
Trainer Ken McPeek, who knows something about stopping a Triple Crown hopeful, sends out the duo of Unstoppable U and Atigun, both 30-1. In 2002, McPeek saddled Sarava to a 70-1 upset of the Belmont as Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem went home empty-handed, finishing eighth after stumbling at the start.
“It was a good day,” recalled McPeek. “Nobody threw any stones at me on the way out. It was fine; I’m a bit bullet-proof, anyway. It was all positive. Not one negative comment from anybody. I think it would have been one thing if we’d have beat him in a photo, but we didn’t.”
Atigun, recent winner of an optional claimer at Churchill Downs, drew post 4 under Julien Leparoux, while Unstoppable U, undefeated in two starts, drew post position 2 with Junior Alvarado.
Rounding out the field are a trio of 50-1 shots:
--Ravelo’s Boy, whose most recent start was a fifth-place finish in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 10;
--Five Sixteen, who will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik as she attempts to join Julie Krone (1992, Colonial Affair) as the only woman to win a Triple Crown race,
--and Guyana Star Dweej, second to Unstoppable U in an optional claimer last time out.
--Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey