NEW YORK — The button says it all: "We want another." I'll Have Another's trainer, Doug O'Neill was wearing one Tuesday at Rockefeller Center, and so were others not even affiliated with the horse going for the Triple Crown on Saturday.
It seems like most of those paying attention to the Belmont Stakes want a momentous, history-making victory. Starved for a Triple Crown winner since 1978, it's a popular sentiment to bet on I'll Have Another, if just for the souvenir ticket and the boost it could give the sport.
But trainer Dale Romans said those betting on Dullahan will be cashing real tickets, and he and others trying to derail history are showing no mixed emotions.
"None at all. I'd love to have 120,000 people booing me," Romans said. "Really great horses have won the Triple Crown, and I think that Doug or [owner] Paul Reddam, they're good sportsmen. They want to earn it. We owe it to the past Triple Crown winners to make them earn it."
Bodemeister, I'll Have Another's biggest challenger in the first two legs, won't be at Belmont Park. But Dullahan, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, and Union Rags, once considered a Triple Crown favorite before this road started, lead the candidates to knock off I'll Have Another.
New York Racing Association analyst Andy Serling called Union Rags the victim of a "star-crossed year," and figured Dullahan will be the second betting choice behind I'll Have Another. To beat I'll Have Another, Union Rags' jockey, John Velasquez, joked that he was praying to the gods for rain.
But O'Neill isn't worried about conditions or the other horses in the Belmont.
"My biggest fear is I'll Have Another will wake up with a headache or something and not feel like running," he said. "I think if he shows up and runs his race, he's going to be very tough to beat."
Velasquez conceded he's "definitely very impressed with I'll Have Another's performances so far.
"He has run three races very impressive," he said. "They've been asking for everything, and he's given everything."
How to beat him?
"With another good horse," Velasquez said.
There are plenty of those running to pull off the upset, which would make this the 12th near-miss since Affirmed captured the Triple Crown 34 years ago. Ken McPeek, who trains potential long shots Atigun and Unstoppable U, pulled off a stunning 70-1 victory in the 2002 Belmont with Sarava to rob War Emblem of the Triple Crown.
"This is a weird race," McPeek said. "Sarava proved it. A lot of things can happen."
It could rain. I'll Have Another could have an off-race. That's why so many are lining up to challenge I'll Have Another.
"I really want to win this race," McPeek said. "I have no fear. You can't in this game. A lot of things happen. It's a great sport because you never know. You really never know."
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