I’ll Have Another, the colt who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last month, will try to become only the 12th horse to sweep the US Triple Crown by winning Saturday’s 144th Belmont Stakes.
Not since Affirmed in 1978 has a horse completed the treble with 11 hopefuls in the 34 years since then thwarted by failure in the Belmont, the longest of the three races at 1-1/2 miles (2400m).
I’ll Have Another drew the 11th of 12 starting spots for the Belmont and was made the early oddsmakers’ favourite at 4-5, the first time in his eight races that he has been the top pick.
In both the Derby and Preakness, I’ll Have Another chased down Bodemeister in the home stretch to claim victory.
Bodemeister is not among Saturday’s entries but I’ll Have Another is expected to let rivals set the early pace again.
“We have no strategy set,” I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill said.
“We’ll put our heads together. But being in the 11 hole, we’ll be able to see how the pace sets up and he’ll be behind it whether it’s crawling or flying.”
Oddsmakers made Dullahan, who starts from the fifth gate, the second choice at 5-1 with Union Rags at 6-1 starting third from the rail.
I’ll Have Another’s jockey Mario Gutierrez will ride in five races at Belmont on Friday to better understand a track with which he is unfamiliar.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who guides Optimizer, said Gutierrez “could be the fly in the ointment” of the Triple Crown effort.
“I can’t change the way people are going to think and I can’t change what they’re going to say,” Gutierrez said.
“If they say something, then they say it for a reason, right? And that will make me more prepared.
“In the end, I’m just going to do my job. I’m committed to I’ll Have Another, not all the expectations people have.”
As big as expectations are for I’ll Have Another, Gutierrez is confident the colt can come through.
“No horse is unbeatable. Anything can happen,” he said.
“But I have 100 per cent confidence in him. He loves racing. He has a tremendous heart. He likes to be a winner. He likes to catch horses. That’s where my confidence came from.”