Owner J. Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez were on hand at Belmont Park Thursday morning as Triple Crown candidate I'll Have Another galloped around the 1 1/2-mile oval, with the only difference in his routine being that he departed the Belmont Stakes barn for the first time.
All the contenders for Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes, in which I'll Have Another is attempting to become racing's first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, spent the night in the special barn, where they will be housed until the 1 1/2-mile race.
"He settled right in like we thought he would," trainer Doug O'Neill reported. "He had a really good day of training today. He had really good energy and he cooled out really well, so we're very happy with where we are two days out."
Reddam, who purchased I'll Have Another as a two-year-old for $35,000, recalled watching and wagering on the Belmont as several horses attempted to accomplish what no Thoroughbred has done since Affirmed in 1978.
"I bet against War Emblem, but I bet Medaglia d'Oro, so I lost anyway," he said of the 2002 Belmont, won by 70-1 longshot Sarava.
"I bet against Funny Cide (in 2003), because we had a horse in there -- Ten Most Wanted. I hit the exacta although we ran second (to Empire Maker).
"Big Brown I did not bet against because I thought he was a cinch (in 2008)," Reddam noted. "That's what scares me about the race on Saturday, because a lot of things can go wrong, as Big Brown illustrated (when pulling up and failing to finish the race won by 38-1 shot Da' Tara).
"Smarty Jones, I was really rooting for Smarty Jones (who was run down late by the 36-1 Birdstone in 2004). With three-eighths of a mile to go, it looked like it was happening. Certainly Tom Durkin thought it was happening. But the race is a mile and a half, it's not a mile and a quarter, and a sixteenth, or an eighth, or three-sixteenths, right?"
Reddam recalled indulging in a bit of wishful thinking the morning of the 2008 Belmont.
"The morning that Big Brown is going to run, I remember thinking, 'Oh, Big Brown is going to win the Triple Crown. Why is this happening? Why can't it just wait for us?' But that was kind of a joking thought. And here we are. I didn't wish ill on Big Brown, by any means, but it's quite a long shot that we're actually here."
The plans to have O'Neill, Reddam, and Gutierrez throw out the first pitch for Friday's New York Mets-New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium have been canceled as the tandem will have Boxeur des Rues competing in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at 5:44 p.m. (EDT).
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is well versed in the agonies and ecstasies of the "Test of the Champion," having won the Belmont with Point Given in 2001 as well as bringing three different horses -- Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002 -- into the race with a chance to annex the Triple Crown.
On Saturday, Baffert will attempt to play the role of spoiler with Zayat Stables' fast and dangerous Paynter. As usual, the silver-haired conditioner attracted a crowd everywhere he went on the backstretch Thursday morning.
"You're disappointed," Baffert said when asked about how it feels to get so close and not get the job done. "You're exhausted. You wanted it to be over with, but it's disappointing because you came so close and your horse ran so hard and then you come up short and forget about your Derby win and your Preakness win. You're really just deflated. I used to say, 'I want to win the Derby and just go home and better enjoy it!'
"Like Silver Charm, you feel like, 'If he had seen that other horse (Touch Gold).' When he (Chris McCarron on Touch Gold) took back, Gary Stevens thought (Touch Gold) was done. When I saw him go back, I thought 'Touch Gold is done. I feel better.' Then all of a sudden, when Touch Gold re-rallied, we picked him to the outside, and we were like, 'Oh, my God!' McCarron was playing possum. That was a really great ride.
"Real Quiet needed a horse to carry him a little bit further," Baffert said. "He was out by himself turning for home. He didn't really move early, he just needed something in there to carry him. Once he got the lead, his ears would come up and he'd just shut it down. And then (Victory Gallop) came to him, and then he took off again. The only time he was behind was at the wire. He was in front before and after."
With Point Given, Baffert's only Belmont winner among nine American classic scores, the trainer had a horse he believed good enough to win the Triple Crown. Point Given failed to fire in the Kentucky Derby and then won the Preakness before running the fastest Belmont Stakes (2:26 2/5) in the past 16 years.
For that race, Baffert wasn't sweating like the others.
"In Point Given, when I brought him here, I knew he was a cinch," he said.