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May 18, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Only one horse can win Triple Crown

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - There has not been a Triple Crown champion since Affirmed swept the series over Alydar in 1978. That was the second straight Triple Crown sweep and the third since 1973.

Nothing since in spite of several near misses.

This year, as we head into Saturday's Preakness Stakes, the lone thoroughbred with the opportunity to capture the Triple Crown is I'll Have Another. The chestnut colt won the Kentucky Derby to give him the privilege to be the horse that snaps the longest drought since Secretariat became the first Triple Crown champ after 25 years in 1973.

"I'm confident. You never know, but as long as we continue to train like our horse has trained, we won't be that far off Bodemeister," said Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "If anything, Bodemeister might be behind us early. I could see him chasing us, I really could."

I'll Have Another will take on 10 other 3-year-olds in the 1 3/16-mile race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Somewhat surprisingly, the winner of the Kentucky Derby is the 5-2 second pick behind 8-5 favorite and Derby runner-up Bodemeister.

"It's in (Bodemeister's jockey) Mike Smith's hands to set the pace," O'Neill stated after the post position draw. "For whatever reason, if he breaks slow or decides not to go, we'll take the lead and take it from there."

With just 11 horses in the Preakness, post position is not as big of a deal as in the Run for the Roses. Bodemeister drew post 7 and I'll Have Another will break from the 9-hole.

"I think it's a good post. With him, anything in the middle would have been fine. In the Preakness, you just don't want to be stuck down on the inside, where you have to use your horse a little bit," trainer Bob Baffert said about Bodemeister's draw. "The Derby winner drew well also. Everybody is in a good post."

With only one horse separating the two favorites in the starting gate, look for a significant amount of tactical moves early in the race. As O'Neill said, if Bodemeister, a pure speed horse, should not quickly move to the lead, I'll Have Another will be urged to the front.

"The great thing about I'll Have Another is that his first step out of the gate is very quick," O'Neill said. "If Bodemeister is going to get an easy lead, we'll just push him. Somewhere in midrace, hopefully we can take a little breather. Somewhere around that three-eighths (pole), we'll have to go after him and hopefully have a good stretch duel and end up on the winning end again."

The horse that could take advantage of a speed duel between the top two is Went the Day Well. Winner of the Spiral Stakes, the colt finished fourth in the Derby after racing far off the lead.

"This horse, I think he could have won the Derby if he had broken right, but he didn't," Team Valor's Barry Irwin said. "Once he broke bad, he caused himself a whole bunch of trouble. We have to make sure the horse gets out of the gate this time. If he does, I think we've got a good shot. This horse has an enormous amount of ability. He can really run. I think everybody saw it there, and hopefully we'll see it again."

Irwin also races Animal Kingdom, last year's Kentucky Derby winner who was second in the Preakness to Shackleford.

The Preakness is usually won by a horse coming out of the Run for the Roses. With that in mind, Went the Day Well, trained by Graham Motion and ridden by John Velazquez, has the best chance to prevent I'll Have Another from getting to the Preakness winner's circle.

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