It was a picturesque day at Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes. For those who were able to attend and even those who watched on television, no one knew the high drama that was to unfold in the 137th running of the Preakness.
I was the quintessential couch potato on this day. It started with my customary preview of the Preakness with Ken Trahan and Ed Daniels as I delivered the 4 horse exacta box per Ed's request on the Three Tailgaters radio show. For the record, I gave I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, Creative Cause and Teeth of the Dog as my exacta box for the Preakness.
After my time with Ken and Ed was done, I was wearing out my remote control. The baseball clash between LSU and South Carolina won in dramatic fashion by the Tigers, the HRTV coverage of the undercard races at Pimlico (I was painstakingly close to making a couple of major scores per the wagering guide I posted here on sportsNOLA) and the NHL playoff battle where the Rangers whipped the Devils to take a 2-1 lead in that series all led my fingers to a channel-switching workout.
I then watched the NBC coverage of the Preakness hopeful for the exacta box's chances of coming through. But in the back of my mind I knew that this would not be a life changer as the horses I had were mostly chalk.
To understand the Preakness through the eyes of a handicapper is a difficult thing. As a fan of the Sport of Kings, I was going to root for I'll Have Another but as a handicapper I took Creative Cause expecting a better effort than in Kentucky where he was wide throughout.
Unlike two weeks ago in Kentucky, the surface at Pimlico played a lot slower. Speed horses could not hold throughout this day of racing as closers and stalkers dominated the undercard races. What did that mean for Bodemeister, the presumed lone speed? Was he going to stop or was he going to reverse the decision of two weeks ago on I'll Have Another?
When the gates opened, Bodemeister was sent for the lead but in a bit of a mild surprise to me my selection Creative Cause took on the role of the chaser as he laid second. The Derby winner I'll Have Another was content to sit third. The fractions Bodemeister carved out were 23.3 to start, 47.3 for the half mile and 1.11.2 for the 6-furlong split. At this point, I was waiting to see who would make the first move, and it was Creative Cause who started to surge at the head of the lane. Through the corner of my eye I saw I'll Have Another start to make his run as well.
Creative Cause could not threaten as he grudgingly gave way but the only hope to catch Bodemeister was I'll Have Another. When these two straightened out for the stretch run, Bodemeister was two lengths to the clear; at that point I was unsure if I'll Have Another would run him down since Bodemeister seemingly should have had a lot in reserve after he set a tepid pace.
Around the furlong pole, I abandoned the gamblers' mentality and then screamed at the television urging I'll Have Another to gun down Bodemeister. Of course he obliged in dramatic fashion as he passed him inside the last 50 yards to book his ticket to Belmont Park as he is now the 12th horse since Affirmed to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. I'll Have Another is the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 to have a chance at racing immortality.
After the Preakness, a million thoughts came to my head regarding yet another chance to see a horse win the Triple Crown. I have never witnessed this moment live though it has happened threetimes in my lifetime. But I was just three-years old when Secretariat won it in 1973 and seven when Seattle Slew did it in 1977. Of course, eight-year old George doesn't remember much from when Affirmed pulled off this magical feat. At those ages, I was nowhere near a racetrack so if I'll Have Another is successful in three weeks then he will be my first one.
My analysis though tells me that the best horse was undoubtedly I'll Have Another. He overcame a loose leader setting a pedestrian pace and still was good enough to run down Bodemeister. California-based horses are a monopoly this year as today they swept the trifecta. Creative Cause staggered home in third. Bodemeister is a supremely-talented horse and has acquitted himself quite well in defeat. But face it ladies and gentlemen -- I'll Have Another is simply a better racehorse. As I stated in my previews for the Preakness, this was a top heavy field with the three California horses as the 'haves' with the rest of the field comprised of 'have-nots'.
Now on to the Belmont. Before I get into that, don't you think the New York racing officials were cheering for I'll Have Another to insure a humongous crowd for the Belmont? I have yet to see a prospective list of those who might try to dethrone I'll Have Another but we can speculate. It was previously reported that Dullahan who ran third in the Kentucky Derby will be one primary contender. Mark Valeski who ran second in the Risen Star here at the Fair Grounds and then won the Peter Pan last Saturday at Belmont is one who might also contest the final leg of the Triple Crown. Union Rags, second choice when he ran a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby, is another possibility for the Belmont. What do these horses have in common? All have been defeated by I'll Have Another and quite frankly I don't expect any of them to reverse their beatings in three weeks time. Which brings me to this:
Dear Horse Racing Gods,
I am writing to you to ask only one thing. Please on June 9, 2012 at Belmont Park, see to it that I'll Have Another sweeps the Triple Crown. I am 42 years old and have never witnessed one in my own eyes. Yes, it has happened three times in my lifetime but I was just a little kid and knew nothing about the wonderful sport of horse racing as I do now. I ask this as a die hard fan of horse racing and also a man yearning to feel the emotions of watching something monumental like when 11 horses accomplished this magical feat in the past. I know that the Belmont Stakes is the test of Champions for its grueling mile and a half trip. I also understand why the Triple Crown schedule is how it is. But just once I want to see a horse sweep the Triple Crown. We have that chance now with I'll Have Another. Please don't deny him or his connections like you did to those 11 horses that missed winning the Belmont Stakes with history on the line. I am one not to ask for a lot but just this once let me see I'll Have Another win the Belmont. If you can do that not just for me but to all the legions of racing fans near my age group, we would greatly appreciate it very much. Thank you.
George Pepis, Horse Racing Analyst
P.S. -- If another horse in 2013 has a chance for a Triple Crown, expect another letter from me.
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