- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2012

BALTIMORE — Unlike the Kentucky Derby, Bob Baffert thought he had the Preakness Stakes won with Bodemeister. It was just slow enough that his front-running horse had a good chance to put it away.

But just like two weeks ago at Churchill Downs, there was I’ll Have Another hard-charging down the stretch. The Derby winner was going at full speed and doing so effortlessly, passing Bodemeister just before the finish line of the 1 3/16-mile track to capture the Preakness and keep the dream alive for the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

“I just can’t even put it into words. It’s incredible,” winning trainer Doug O’Neill said. “What a ride. Mario [Gutierrez] was so patient. I’m just numb. It’s incredible.”

What a ride for I’ll Have Another’s connections from Derby long-shot winner through Saturday in front of a record crowd of 121,309 at Pimlico Race Course when he became the first horse to be on the verge of the Triple Crown since Big Brown in 2008.

I’ll Have Another, which went off at 3-1 odds, officially won by a nose in 1:55.94. He paid $8.40, $3.20 and $2.80.

Those are much smaller prices than the Derby, but this race shaped up in a very similar way. Bodemeister jumped out to the lead and was ahead of the pack around every turn. I’ll Have Another just sat back, not too far off the lead.

“I kind of liked where we were. Bode had to run a little bit to get where he was, and he did slow it down,” O’Neill said. “When I saw Mario finally get him into stride mid-stretch, I just had faith he was going to get there.”

Gutierrez hadn’t ridden at Pimlico Race Course until Thursday, but he went 2-for-2 then. Asking O’Neill about pressing Bodemeister in the Preakness, the trainer’s message was simple: “You know the horse, just ride him to the best of your ability, and he did just that.”

I’ll Have Another didn’t have to leave his comfort zone. A speed horse, he proved an ability to close quickly in Louisville and did it again Saturday.

Owner Paul Reddam didn’t know until 20 yards remained that I’ll Have Another had the Preakness, and a chance at history, wrapped up. Much of that was thanks to a perfect ride from Gutierrez.

“Well, more than anything, I’m glad that I keep not disappointing people, you know?” Gutierrez said. “It’s not me. It’s just him. It’s just all about the horse. He just keep proving people wrong.”

Gutierrez has now won four of his four mounts on I’ll Have Another, again gearing him for the stretch drive with ease.

“I think Mario felt super confident in this horse and his ability to get a good run,” O’Neill said. “When he called on him, he really finished.”

Bodemeister again couldn’t finish, handing Baffert another disappointing loss.

“It just got a little late there at the end, and the winner’s a good horse. It was a good horse race. I really can’t complain,” Baffert said. “I’m proud that, as a trainer, my horse showed up and he ran his race and he got beat. That’s all you can ask for.”

Baffert talked earlier in the week about joy for fans at Belmont Park with a chance to see a Triple Crown possibility. That’s a bittersweet pill for him to swallow.

Not for O’Neill and Co. I’ll Have Another will leave for Belmont Park at 8 a.m. Sunday.

“We’re thinking Triple Crown, baby. Come on, Baltimore, New York. Come on, why not?” O’Neill said. “He’s a special horse. We’ll see how he comes out of it. If he comes out of it in good shape, we’re heading to New York.”

In a Twitter message, Went the Day Well trainer called I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister “the real deal.” But only one of them will get a chance to capture the Triple Crown after a remarkable victory in the Preakness.

“The winner’s a good horse,” Baffert said. “He’ll get the respect now that he deserves.”

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