Steve Andersen: Belmont Q&a
Steve Andersen: Belmont Q&a
Sporting Life

I'll Have Another

Steve Andersen of the Daily Racing Form joined us to talk all things I’ll Have Another ahead of his bid for Triple Crown glory in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

sportinglife: Where has I’ll Have Another sprung from and how surprised have you been by his progress this year?

Steve Andersen: He was brought along steadily and very wisely. He had a Grade Two placing last summer at Del Mar and then went to the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in September and ran poorly. However he came out with sore shines and, while he didn’t require surgery, they gave him plenty of time to get over them.

In doing so he really came on and won the Bob Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on February 1st very convincingly, winning from the front which was how you had to do it at the beginning of the meet. They then made the interesting decision to wait a couple of months for the Santa Anita Derby and pass-up races in March. That gave them the chance to build him up again and have a fresh horse for what has been the most important part of his career.

That was a big decision, a lot of times you’ll see a lot of three-year-olds in America run in February, March and April and then head into the Triple Crown. At that point you see them starting to get a little dull, a little tired, and I’ll Have Another isn’t doing that right now. He has only had the four races this year, one or two below the average – and that might prove to be a key factor.

sportinglife : What did you make of his performance in the Kentucky Derby?

SA: Outstanding. Turning for home I thought Bodemeister was home and would be a comfortable two or three length winner, similar to the way Bob Baffert won it with War Emblem about a decade ago. Well, instead I’ll Have Another was the only horse to emerge and run him down. Straight after I thought he’d do well in the Preakness.

sportinglife: He went on to win the Preakness. Was that an improved performance and how different a test was that to the Kentucky Derby?

SA: I think it was an improved performance because you’re dealing with a race that is 110 yards shorter at a mile and three sixteenths. I believed that worked in Bodemeister’s favour and it looked as though he was going to be clear at the wire but I’ll Have Another came and got him. It was one of the better Preaknesses we’ve seen in the last 20 years, harping back to the narrow decision between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer when they were only separated by a head or a neck after a stretch-long fight.

In this race it was interesting to see I’ll Have Another keep coming, keep fighting, to get to Bodemeister and finally go by him. I’d give that performance a higher mark than the Kentucky Derby in he was playing a game his rival is better at, namely racing over the shorter trip.

sportinglife: How big a chance do you give I’ll Have Another of completing the Triple Crown?

SA: A huge chance. I’ve been talking to his trainer Doug O’Neill regularly in the last few weeks and he says the horse has held his weight and is doing his bit. The light campaign through the winter will really help him and the mile-and-a-half should suit, he has the bloodlines in his pedigree for it.

His style of racing should suit the Belmont too. You don’t want to do too much, too soon and you don’t want to leave yourself with too much to do in the end either. You really just want to complete each furlong in 12 seconds and hope you can stay the trip. These horses will never run a mile-and-a-half on dirt again, if good enough they’ll go down to ten furlongs for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We don’t run those sorts of races in the United States which makes this an appropriate race to judge the championship.

I think I’ll Have Another has an outstanding chance but what’s emerged as his biggest threat is the trend that has developed in the last ten years. Horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby then skipped the Preakness have been favoured and Dullahan and Union Rags fit that bill. The latter had a tough start at Churchill Downs with traffic at the first turn but finished very well. He gets a new jockey this time but there is an argument he might be better at slightly shorter than a mile-and-a-half.

Dullahan won the Blue Grass and was third in the Derby and they’ve been waiting for this race. He’s the principal scare for I’ll Have Another. Why have so many horses failed previously in the Belmont having won the first two legs of the Triple Crown?

SA: We’re dealing with the distance factor again and there’s also the fact they’re getting a little tired by now, they’re not 100 per cent. That’s why some of the things we’re seeing from I’ll Have Another are so promising right now. We had it in the Daily Racing Form that he ran the last quarter mile of a Monday gallop in 26.5 seconds, two seconds quicker and that’s race time, that’s not far off a workout.

He’s obviously got a lot of energy and if he can keep doing that through the week it will help.

In general horses have struggled because you’re dealing with the distance, dealing with the last race of an extensive campaign through the winter, the prep races and the Triple Crown itself. It winds up being tough on horses to do it three times in a row and be at your best, it can always be someone else’s day too. How big has the I’ll Have Another story become in American sports in general?

SA: It’s growing but this is racing’s time to take the spotlight. This is the time of year when the sport can benefit from having a marquee event. There’s no NFL for example and that rules the roost over here and that’ll help this race get the attention – especially when there’s a Triple Crown at stake.

It’s been 34 years since the last one and that’s arguably two generations. Lots of people have grown up without knowing what it’s like to recognise a Triple Crown winner, they have no memories of Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Secretariat from the 1970s. There’s a novelty factor whenever a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Tell us about I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez?

SA: Doug is one of the top trainers in Southern California and nationally has been prominent at times in the last decade. He had Lava Man, a seven-time Grade One winner who is I’ll Have Another’s pony now, he goes to the track with him every day. He won the Hollywood Gold Cup three times, won a Sanita Anita Handicap and a Pacific Classic. In 2006 had he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic he’d have been Horse Of The Year but he was beaten at Churchill Downs. He’s had other good horses too but this is very much the biggest moment in his training career.

The story of the jockey is very different. He’s 25, from Veracruz Mexico, on the Gulf Of Mexico side of the coastline, to the east of Mexico City. He grew up in a quarter horse family and went to Mexico City to ride at the Hipodromo’de las Americas in about 2005 when he was 18.

Somebody was down there from Hastings Park in British Colombia and noticed him and said ‘ do you want to come up to Vancouver and ride’. He went on to become one of the leading riders up there and really polished his craft.

Then Troy Taylor the trainer was coming down to California with a bunch of horses. They don’t race at Hastings Park in the winter, it’s a seasonal racetrack, and Gutierrez came down, picked up an agent, picked up a few rides and is now on the verge of the Triple Crown.

He’s the one who seems to be having the most difficulty with the attention. He’s not too keen on press interviews, ducking them or avoiding questions. He’s not used to this kind of thing, it’s a whole new ball game for him. He didn’t ride last week, he took it off and went to Vancouver to hang out with his friends. He went to Belmont at the start of this week and will ride in some races on Friday and Saturday to get used to the track which is unique in itself because of its size.

sportinglife: So Steve the million dollar question – can I’ll Have Another complete the Triple Crown on Saturday night?

SA: I think he can. I haven’t felt this excited since Smarty Jones in 2004 who was in the same situation and got caught late, late in the race. That was a tough loss for his backers but this guy looks like he’s got a pretty good run left in him.

It will be interesting to see how he handles the mile-and-a-half. The jockey may not welcome the attention but when he gets on this horse he doesn’t let anything bother him and I hope that continues. If this horse gives it 100 per cent he could well be storming to the front a furlong to go and win by a length.

Dullahan is the horse to beat but I do think he has it in him. It would be a big boost for the sport over here in America. It would get racing on the front pages and to the front of the Sports Centre Highlights show. That’s how they judge the market over here now.

View the original article over at Sporting Life

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger... Related Racing Tags: , , ,

Please leave a reply to this article

%d bloggers like this: