Maybe now people will start respecting I'll Have Another. Maybe now they'll no longer underestimate the undersized chestnut colt with the big heart -- the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner who has a chance to make horse racing history.
Three months ago, the public dismissed I'll Have Another in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, sending him off as an impossible 43-1 long shot. He won. Two months later in the Santa Anita Derby, the bettors preferred Creative Cause and made I'll Have Another the 4-1 second choice. He won. Two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby, the nation made him the ninth betting choice out of 20 (behind even Creative Cause), a 15-1 outsider. You know how that turned out: He won.
And on Saturday in the 137th Preakness at Pimlico, the public doubted him one more time, making Bodemeister, whom I'll Have Another beat in Kentucky, the 8-5 favorite. I'll Have Another was the second choice. And, one more time, he won.
His victory was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Preakness, with Bodemeister reprising his front-running tactics from the Derby and opening up a seemingly insurmountable lead at the top of the stretch. The fractions of the Preakness were much softer than they were two weeks ago, leaving Bodemeister with much left for his rival's stretch drive.
In the final two furlongs, I'll Have Another put his head down and slowly closed on the front-runner, but the wire was coming fast. A Triple Crown try was at stake. A horse racing nation held its breath.
I'll Have Another put his nose in front three strides from the wire and won by a desperate neck. Winning jockey Mario Gutierrez had barely pulled up his mount when race caller Larry Collmus said, "And the Triple Crown will be on the line at Belmont Park!"
"We're thinking Triple Crown, baby," trainer Doug O'Neill told The Associated Press after the win. "He's a special horse. We'll see how he comes out of it, and if he comes out of it in good shape, we're heading to New York, baby."
And now, at the 1 1/2-mile Test of the Champion known as the Belmont Stakes on June 9, I'll Have Another has a chance to finally deliver the gift for which horse racing fans have been craving for 34 years. No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978. Eleven have come to the Belmont with a chance, and 11 have failed. But it's not only that they have failed; it's how they've failed, coming tantalizing close to complete the triple. Spectacular Bid (1979), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and Smarty Jones (2004) all looked liked Triple Crown winners at some point in the Belmont Park stretch only to be denied.
I'll Have Another will either be the 12th Triple Crown winner of all time or the 12th since Affirmed to come up short. But, at least this time, he'll enter the race as the horse everyone's talking about.