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May 25, 2012

Nobody asked me, but ...

By: By Drew Markol, Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's not much fun being torn down the middle.

Part of me, a really big part of me, would love to see I'll Have Another complete the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

We haven't had a Triple Crown winner since "Welcome Back Kotter" was a hit show and, heck, we could use one. Not another "Welcome Back Kotter" - one was enough - but a really great horse that could make history.

Another part of me, like I've stated in this space before, would prefer not to see it happen this way.

Horse after horse has come close - just since 2002, five of them have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to come up short at the never-ending Belmont.

War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008) before him, and now I'll Have Another.

I had to look that statistic up about the recent horses because, like so many, when they didn't convert what seems to be the unconvertible, they get forgotten by most of us.

I had the pleasure of following Smarty Jones around the country while he was trying for the Triple Crown, only to see him run down by Birdstone at the Belmont, shortly after the nation learned that Ronald Reagan had passed away.

There was an electricity at the Belmont you couldn't even measure when Smarty Jones was within reach. The same electricity the recent others produced and the same kind I'll Have Another will provide in a few weeks.

The problem? The horses waiting to strike - Union Rags and Doohan, to name two - both skipped the Preakness in order to rest up for the Belmont.

Is that fair? Sure it is. Their owners are looking for the same thing: a Triple Crown win to boost the stud fees for their horse.

Is it a problem? Sure it is. I'll Have Another is slogging through three big- time races in the span of five weeks, practically unheard of unless you're trying to make history. Union Rags and Doohan are lying in the weeds, taking the Preakness off, looking to spoil history.

I'll Have Another will be the big betting favorite come race day, but that won't deter the others. Considering he was 15-to-1 to win the Derby (I didn't have him, either) and won, it will be anybody's race.

The horse won both the Derby and Preakness by a neck over Bodemeister, kind of eerily similar to what Affirmed did so long ago.

Affirmed? Now there's a horse we've all heard of. The last Triple Crown winner, just the 11th ever. Of course, that was 34 years ago. And Affirmed did it by beating Alydar by 1 1/2 lengths in each race.

Will it happen again? Will Bodemeister even run in the Belmont, the longest of the three races at 1 1/2 miles. Turns out we won't since Bodemeister; the horse that came so close twice, will not run in New York at the Belmont.

But that's now. Back then, the year before Affirmed, Seattle Slew swept all three races in 1977. Four years earlier, the wondrous Secretariat ran away from all comers, becoming the greatest horse to ever race.

Since 1978, we've waited and waited. All told, 11 horses, including the latest ones mentioned above, have had a shot at the Triple Crown and have gone a collective ohfer.

Do I think I'll Have Another will win and claim his place in history? Boy, I'd love to say yes, but I'd be lying. This horse is a wondrous beast, but asking it to do it three times in a row against good horses in such a short time span is too much.

Until the Triple Crown races are spread out, allowing these fragile creatures enough time to rest, it won't happen.

It would be nice to be wrong in this case, though.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several Philadelphia-area newspapers for over 25 years.

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