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Taking Aim at Triple Crown, and Not Wasting Much Time

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Taking Aim at Triple Crown, and Not Wasting Much Time

The Big Horse is already here. I’ll Have Another pulled into Belmont Park at 2:53 p.m. Eastern on Sunday and took up residence in Barn 9. The plan for him the next three weeks is to become acclimated to one of the most idiosyncratic racetracks in the world.

His Triple Crown bid depends on not only knowing but also relishing the track in order to win the grueling Belmont Stakes. Horsemen call it Big Sandy because of its wide sweeping turns and distinct footing. The last three horses to sweep horse racing’s holy grail — Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (’77) and Affirmed (’78) — haunted the Belmont oval like old souls.

I’ll Have Another is based in California, but his trainer, Doug O’Neill, shipped the colt to Baltimore from Louisville, Ky., on the Monday after the Kentucky Derby and liked how it worked out. So he hustled I’ll Have Another to New York and duplicated his playbook.

“We were at Pimlico almost two weeks and we shipped in a week before at Churchill, and now we’re here for the three weeks,” said Jack Sisterson, O’Neill’s assistant, who escorted the colt to Belmont. “It’s kind of working out for us, so we’re not going to change that.”

Sisterson says I’ll Have Another will be familiarized with his new digs with a walk around the track Monday morning.

Sisterson said the plan thereafter was “one day at a time.”

Since a nearly five-month layoff after coming up with sore shins in the Hopeful Stakes last summer at Saratoga, I’ll Have Another has been indomitable. He has reeled off four straight victories, including two with breathtaking stretch runs to catch a West Coast rival, Bodemeister, first in the Derby and then on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore.

“I’ve had enough,” said Bodemeister’s trainer, Bob Baffert, who sent his colt back to California. “He’s a pretty amazing animal,” he added, referring to Bodemeister. “He didn’t act tired after the race.”

Still, Baffert said that it was wise to skip the Belmont Stakes and wait for a late-summer campaign for Bodemeister. He is confident his colt belongs with I’ll Have Another at the top of a talented crop of 3-year-olds.

“They are two really good horses,” he said. “On any given year, they could probably win those races. It was a tough year.”

I’ll Have Another has benefited from masterly handling by his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, a little-known rider whom the colt’s owner, Paul Reddam, urged O’Neill to take a chance on. Gutierrez, too, intends to go to New York early and pick up some mounts in the hope of getting a feel for Belmont Park.

So far, he has been unflappable and has given all the credit to his horse. Gutierrez acknowledged that he had no idea if I’ll Have Another could handle the grueling mile-and-a-half distance, the longest of the three Triple Crown races and the one called the Test of the Champion.

“We’ll see,” he said, smiling.

O’Neill, on the other hand, sees a colt blossoming at the right time.

“He’s got the mind,” O’Neill said. “You’ve seen the way he’s handled the attention in Kentucky and here in Baltimore. He’s got a great confidence about him, and he’s got the stride of a horse that a mile and a half won’t be a problem.”

The colt is the son of Flower Alley out of the dam Arch’s Gal Edith and is stout on staying power on both sides.

“He’s got the pedigree; so much stamina on the female side,” O’Neill said. “And he’s lightly raced. He’s still a fresh, happy, thriving horse that just seems to be getting better and better.”

Mostly, however, I’ll Have Another will need some luck. He needs to stay healthy and comfortable. He needs to be ready to face as many as 12 rivals.

Among the likely competitors are the Derby’s third-place finisher, Dullahan, and Union Rags, who also skipped the Preakness after enduring a troubled trip in Louisville. For now, however, the wait is on.

“We’ll maintain the same type of exercise that he’s had,” O’Neill said. “There’s the old line about you can’t take a sprinter and train him two miles and make a router out of him and you can’t take a router and work them three-eighths every week and make a sprinter out of him.

“If we’ve got a true route horse, which we do, he’s going to maintain his fitness and his exercise. If they can go a mile and a half, they will. And he will.”

Source: The New York Times

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