Start spreading the news, because we're headed to New York City and Belmont Park for a Triple Crown opportunity for I'll Have Another on June 9.
While the buzz all week seemed to surround Bodemeister, the Derby winner will certainly be front and center for the next three weeks leading up to the Test of a Champion, the Belmont Stakes.
In almost identical fashion to the Derby, I'll Have Another with Mario Gutierrez in the irons put it into a higher gear in the stretch to overcome the front-running Bodemeister at the wire, winning by a neck before a record crowd of 121,309 sun-soaked fans. Ron Turcotte, the great Secretariat's jockey, was said to be in Baltimore this week tutoring the young Gutierrez, schooling him on Pimlico and how to deal with the pressure that comes with being the Derby champion.
Turcotte will now have his work cut out for him as the pressure that comes with attempting a feat last achieved in 1978 by Affirmed, awaits his gifted student.
I'll Have Another will be the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 attempted to win racing's elusive Triple Crown. It will be the eighth attempt in the last 15 years for a horse to win the three Classic races. There were two three-year stretches (1997-99 and 2002-2004) in addition to Big Brown's effort. New York will be bracing for close to 100,000 fans in three weeks, nearly double the attendance that shows up during a non-Triple Crown Belmont Stakes day.
Trainer Doug O'Neill will surely soak up the New York spotlight that will shine brightly on him. The man is a walking quote machine and certainly enjoys a good time, so it should lead to some interesting fodder as we approach Belmont weekend.
Gutierrez, a relative unknown who was riding in Vancouver at Hastings Race Course last year at this time, is now the toast of the racing world. What he is about to face in the Belmont Stakes will truly be a test both mentally and physically. The 12-furlong race can be grueling and the track can be deceiving, especially with the half mile pole being on the far turn, a fact that has done in more than one jockey that moved his horse too soon.
Gutierrez was beaming and plans on watching film of old Belmont Stakes races, just as he did this week watching old replays of Preakness races gone by.
He described the work ethic he put in over the past two weeks preparing for the Preakness.
"I want to put the pressure a little bit on the side because the credit [the horse has] earned is all his. He has proven a lot of people wrong. I just have to prepare because I want to be at the same level as him. He's an amazing horse," said Gutierrez.
O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam will likely proceed with Gutierrez as they did at Pimlico by giving him several rides at Big Sandy before the big race. The past few days the connections shipped in several horses, not a cheap endeavor by any means, from California to use Gutierrez as the rider to get him comfortable with the surroundings at Old Hilltop. A mistake incurred several years ago by Calvin Borel with Mine That Bird, who moved way too soon in the Belmont and succumbed in the stretch to Summer Bird.
Does I'll Have Another have the stamina to handle the 1 1/2 -mile final jewel? His sire, Flower Alley had no problem with the classic 1 1/4 -mile distance, winning the Travers Stakes at Saratoga and finishing second at Belmont Park in the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2005 to Saint Liam.
I'll Have Another rated beautifully today before making his big move at the five-sixteenths pole and accelerating past Bodemeister for the second time in two weeks in the final yards.
It was deja vu for Bodemeister, the talented Empire Maker colt, finishing second to I'll Have Another for the second straight race. Trainer Bob Baffert said earlier in the week that he will most likely pass on the Belmont Stakes. Baffert was gracious in defeat, proclaiming, "It's one of those things where it's good for the sport. It's good for the Belmont."
He was quick to point out the success the California horses have had so far on the Triple Crown trail. "The winner's a good horse. He'll get the respect now that he deserves. The California horses are really tough. They ran 1-2-3. I'm proud that as a trainer my horse showed up and he ran his race. He just got beat," said Baffert.
Bodemeister's Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has had his share of close defeats in big races, thought he would be the one in the winner's circle.
"I thought I put him away but he reached up and got us with three strides. Two great horses and I give them all the credit for what they did," Smith said.
It is way too early to speculate what the pace scenario will be like or who will show up to challenge I'll Have Another in New York. That's for another day.
For thoroughbred racing, it's time to enjoy the next few weeks in the sun and hope he's got another left in him.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He posts every Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com and can be found on Twitter (@EquiSpace).