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Jun 08, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Triple Crown within reach of new Big Red

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - The best known chestnut thoroughbred of all time is the great Secretariat. Known as Big Red, the colt became the first Triple Crown champion in 1973 after a 25-year drought.

Now another chestnut colt is on the verge of snapping an even longer gap between history-making victories.

I'll Have Another, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, comes into Saturday's Belmont Stakes needing to win the 1 1/2-mile Test of Champions to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since 1978.

"It's been an unbelievable ride, and I think we've just stayed focused on the whole journey because of the great I'll Have Another," Doug O'Neill, the colt's trainer, said.

Imagine how the ride for O'Neill, jockey Mario Gutierrez and owner J. Paul Reddam will become should the 3-year-old hit the wire first shortly after 6:40 p.m. ET Saturday.

I'll Have Another will begin his journey around Belmont Park from post 11 in the 12-horse field. A similar spot to the one he had for the Kentucky Derby when he was 19 of 20 in the starting gate and the Preakness when he drew post 9 of 11.

"We've been toward the outside in the other two Triple Crown races, so it's a good spot to be in," O'Neill said.

Not only is the Belmont Stakes the longest of the Triple Crown races (it's a single lap at Belmont Park), the enormous size of the track equalizes the post positions.

"Being in the 11th hole, we're able to kind of see how the pace sets up," O'Neill said at the post position draw. "If they're crawling, we'll hopefully be leading the crawl, and if they're flying, we'll be sitting in behind the horses flying."

There isn't a whole lot of speed in the race. One of the long shots may try to steal the race by going out fast. However, experienced jockeys should have a clock in their head that tells them if the pace is too fast, too slow or just right.

As O'Neill said, I'll Have Another has the ability to sit anywhere according to the pace. Gutierrez will have the advantage of having ridden on Friday at Belmont Park and is getting a private tutoring session from retired New York jockey Richard Migliore about the racetrack.

"Mario is just such a confident rider and he's so confident in I'll Have Another. They get along so well, so we're in good shape," O'Neill said.

The two main rivals versus the 4-5 favorite in the race are 5-1 second pick Dullahan and 6-1 third choice Union Rags. Dullahan was third and Union Rags seventh in the Kentucky Derby, and both skipped the Preakness.

Dullahan drew post 5 and Union Rags the three-hole with Javier Castellano and John Velazquez riding their respective mounts.

Dullahan likes to come from off the pace while Union Rags has tactical speed if he doesn't run into traffic problems. Union Rags, with jockey Julien Leparoux, had problems in his last two starts, the Florida Derby and Run for the Roses.

"We have been a little disappointed, but we still feel Union Rags hasn't run his race," said Union Rags owner Phyllis Wyeth. "We had some problems in the Derby, but we still think he can do really, really well, and we've switched jockeys to Johnny (Velazquez), and he just had a really nice work."

The 144th Belmont Stakes is basically I'll Have Another's race to win. He's by far the best horse in the field, and among all 3-year-olds. He has shown the ability to run down pacesetters and press front runners.

A win on Saturday means I'll Have Another is a champion worthy of all the adulation one deserves.

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