By Brian Monzo
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It’s been 34 years since the last Triple Crown winner.
Since then, there have been 11 horses to take the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, only to falter at the mile-and-a-half run of the Belmont Stakes. I’ll Have Another has a chance to make history — or become No. 12.
We heard a ton before the Preakness about I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister. I tried my best to find a way to not make the Preakness a two-horse race, but in the end, it was just that.
The Belmont Stakes will have a field of 12 horses, but to me, there are only five with a legitimate shot of winning.
The contest in Elmont is different then any other horse race. The 1.5-miler is a unique race in which anything is possible. It’s a brutally hard race to win, and only a true champion will come out of top.
It also makes for great drama and a ton of excitement.
WEB EXTRA: Guide to the Belmont Stakes
The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, I’ll Have Another, is going to be bet as the heavy favorite. We are talking 3-5 on the tote board. The fact is: this horse is getting better with every race. Jockey Mario Gutierrez has had some of the best rides I’ve ever seen. He’ll get the 11th post position, which should allow him to whatever he wants out of the gate. He is going to have enough built up down the stretch and more to hold off some of the closers. He has shown few signs of faltering, and if he gets a perfect ride, I think we could witness history.
Then again, weird things always seem to happen at the Belmont.
Bob Baffert is sending out Bodemeister’s buddy Paynter here. Paynter may not be the same horse as Bodemeister, but he will have Mike Smith on board and be taken to the lead, just like Bode. Paynter is one of the five horses I can see winning this race, and you know Baffert would love to get a win here, especially since I’ll Have Another has gotten the best of him in the Derby and the Preakness. He ran an allowance race at Pimlico on Preakness and was impressive with his win. His Beyer figure was impressive his last out and I would not be shocked here. Definitely one to consider, and a must on exotic tickets.
Union Rags is back in the mix here, and to no shock to anyone, has a very good chance here. Union Rags will have to return to his two-year-old form to get it done. He gets John Velazquez on his mount and the third post position, which can allow him to hang back to the final turn to make his move. He couldn’t get it done in the Florida Derby and a brutal trip in the Kentucky Derby. His close in the Derby however was eye popping. This is the kind of horse that we may have not seen the absolute best from, and if Velazquez can get him lose around the final turn, he could wind up passing I’ll Have Another. Major contender, especially at 5-1.
Dullahan to me seems like the perfect horse in this field. He has tactical late speed and will be coming like a freight train down the stretch. We saw his dominating close in the Blue Grass Stakes and got a taste of it in the Kentucky Derby. Now he is rested and coming off some very sharp workouts. His closing kick instantly makes him a major player here. His one downfall is he needs room to run at his best and if there is a lot of traffic down the stretch, he will be in trouble. This will be the horse Gutierrez has to be most prepared for and I think he will (unfortunately) catch I’ll Have Another late. He will likely be somewhere in the 7-2 / 4-1 range and is my top pick.
One horse that myself and WFAN host Marc Malusis have both liked since the Wood Memorial is Street Life. He disappointed that day, but rebounded to close to third in the G2 Peter Pan Stakes. He comes from 2007 Derby Winner Street Sense and defines ‘closer.’ In the early stages of this race, especially since he drew the inside post, it will look as though he isn’t running. However, he will slowly creep into the mix and will be flying late. I don’t know if he matches up against these horses, but at 12-1 or 15-1, I will definitely put on a few exotic tickets. A long shot, but with respect.
Those are the five horses that I think have a shot. The rest of the field doesn’t impress me enough to wager on.
Unstoppable U could be in the lead for the first mile of the race, but will fade from there. Atigun finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby and gets Julien Leparoux on the mount, but won’t be much of a factor here.
Ravelo’s Boy is 2-for-13 and can close, but won’t be close enough to make an impact here. Five Sixteen has hit the board three out of six races and couldn’t beat Street Life three back. Guyana Star Dweej has one win in nine tries and five places, but won’t able to handle distance.
Optimizer takes another crack at his bunch after two tries in the Derby (11th) and Preakness (6th) and trainer D. Wayne Lukas is hoping to crack the board here. I may include on a superfecta ticket. But that’s a maybe, and only one ticket.
My Adonis rounds out the group and could be close to the lead out of the gate, and if Elvis Trujillo stayed on the mount, I would give this horse a shot to finish in the top five, but Ramon Dominguez gets the call. Not a knock on Dominguez, but I am passing here.
How the race will play out:
I am just going to include the five serious contenders here.
Paynter will jump out to the lead, with I’ll Have Another a length off of him around the first turn. He’ll be followed by Union Rags, then Dullahan and a distant Street Life.
Paynter will get a two-length lead around the backstretch. Union Rags around the second turn will start to move, as will Dullahan. Street Life will pick it up, and I’ll Have Another stays two lengths behind Paynter at the stretch. Dullahan and I’ll Have Another will find their stride and I’ll Have Another will take the lead with a furlong to go. Union Rags will be third behind Dullahan with Street Life not far behind, but running out of track. Dullahan should pass a tiring Paynter with Union Rags on his tail.
I’ll Have Another grinding it out, but, sadly, will be caught just before the wire by Dullahan. Union Rags will finish third, followed by Paynter and Street Life.
I am going to be very honest — I am going to wager on Dullahan. Why? Simple logic: I think he’ll win the race.
I’ll play a triple with Dullahan, I’ll Have Another and Union Rags. That said, despite playing against him, I will be cheering and rooting for I’ll Have Another to win. If he does, I won’t care about losing my bet. Part of me will be very disappointed if I’m right.
We’ll see you at the finish line — enjoy!
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