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I'll Have Another arrives at Belmont Park
I'll Have Another, who on June 9 will attempt to become the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown when he competes in the $1 million Belmont Stakes, arrived in Barn 9 at Belmont Park at 2:53 p.m. (EDT) Sunday after vanning north from Pimlico Race Course in Maryland.
For video of the chestnut son of Flower Alley, including comments from trainer Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam, click here.
"We got kind of held up for about an hour and a half," assistant trainer Jack Sisterson said. "I have no idea where we were, but besides that the horse was happy. He was just looking out the window the whole time. He and Lava Man were together, they were just chatting away the whole time.
"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. So far, so good. It's kind of working out for us, so we're not going to change that. I think the sooner he gets over the track and gets familiar with the surroundings...we'll walk him tomorrow (Monday) and then take it from there. One day at a time."
Earlier in the day at Pimlico, O'Neill could hardly contain his excitement as he reported that I'll Have Another appears to have exited his hard-fought neck victory over Bodemeister in Saturday's Preakness Stakes in fine fettle.
"Bring it on! We're ready to go. Super-pumped!" O'Neill enthused. "How he's doing is going to dictate how we're doing. This morning, he looks superb.
"The fact he's still fresh and happy, to have done what he's done in the past few weeks and then show up the day after the Preakness and see him lick his feed tub, have good energy, and be cold-legged and sound, that gives me the confidence," O'Neill added. "Obviously there will be fresh horses; Union Rags and Dullahan come to mind. They're fresh-legged and ready to go but we're pumped our horse came out of this race in great shape. As long as he stays injury-free we've got a big, big chance."
Reddam said he hopes he and everybody connected with I'll Have Another will be able to enjoy what the next three weeks bring.
"I have no idea what's going to happen between now and June 9," Reddam admitted. "I am going to tell everyone to try and keep the tension down. Enjoy it. If you want to be in the spotlight, knock yourself out. If you started singing on David Letterman, you probably carried it too far. But this is supposed to be fun."
As expected, there was nothing but smiles around O'Neill's Hollywood Park barn Sunday morning.
"Winning the Derby was the best," assistant trainer Leandro Mora said jubilantly, "but the Preakness is like the cherry on top of the pie. It's a great feeling, a super feeling. I wouldn't trade places with anyone as assistant for this man. It's a dream come true."
Mora stayed at Hollywood to take care of the stable's business during the Kentucky Derby and missed the Preakness because he wanted everything to be the same as the Derby.
"Even if they put a gun to my head, this time I'm not going to stay here, I'm going to Belmont," Mora declared. "Yesterday, I didn't want to jinx the race. I wanted everything to be exactly the same. I had a chance to go, but didn't. This time, I'm going."
Winning the Derby means elite status, but sweeping the Triple Crown gives his connections immortality, a fact not lost on Mora.
"I'm still walking on the moon and I don't know what else to say," he said. "I talked to the crew back there today and everything is phenomenal. He cleaned up his dinner like a champion. And that's what racing needs now, one true champion. We're all expecting him to win."
I'll Have Another would be the 31st horse to head into the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown, one of the most elusive prizes in sports.
Since 1919, when Sir Barton became the first to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, only 11 horses have managed to sweep all three races, most recently in 1978 when Affirmed beat archrival Alydar by a head in the "Test of the Champion." Five years earlier, Secretariat became the first horse since Citation (1948) to win the Triple Crown, with his 31-length Belmont triumph ending a 25-year drought, and in 1977 Seattle Slew became the first undefeated Triple Crown winner with his Belmont victory running his record to 9-0.
Completing the roster of champions are Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), and Assault (1946).
Beyond the 11 champions, the 1 1/2-mile Belmont has tripped up 19 Triple Crown hopefuls, most recently Big Brown, who did not finish behind longshot winner Da' Tara in 2008. There were consecutive Triple Crown tries from 2002-2004, with War Emblem finishing eighth behind Sarava in 2002, New York-bred Funny Cide coming in third behind Empire Maker in 2003, and Smarty Jones being caught by Birdstone in the shadow of the wire before a record 120,139 fans in 2004.
In 1997 and 1998, Bob Baffert-trained horses came up inches short of sweeping the series, with Silver Charm losing by three-quarters of a length to Touch Gold, and Real Quiet nosed out at the wire by Victory Gallop in a dramatic photo finish. In 1999, Charismatic finished third behind Lemon Drop Kid.
Pensive (1944), Tim Tam (1958), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Kauai King (1966), Forward Pass (1968), Majestic Prince (1969), Canonero II (1971), Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989) also fell short in their quest for the Crown. Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936) won the Derby and the Preakness, but did not start in the Belmont.