For racing fans old enough to remember Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed winning the Triple Crown, many subsequent attempts to sweep the series have seemed almost sacrilegious. Horses such as Real Quiet, Funny Cide, Charismatic and Big Brown didn’t deserve to put their names on a short list with the sport’s all-time greats.
When I’ll Have Another tries to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, purists might have reason to feel the same way. Based on his achievements to date, the colt does not yet deserve the adjective “great.” He is certainly no Secretariat. Yet as a purist who watched the last three Triple Crown winners, I will be cheering wholeheartedly for I’ll Have Another to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
The Washington Post’s horse racing columnist Andy Beyer makes predictions for the Triple Crown.
The Washington Post’s horse racing columnist Andy Beyer makes predictions for New York’s Belmont this Saturday.
The colt is surrounded by an engaging cast of characters. Jockey Mario Gutierrez is a likable and modest young man whose sudden rise from racing’s minor leagues is a marvelous success story. Owner Paul Reddam is a former philosophy teacher and an erudite, passionate student of the sport. Trainer Doug O’Neill has a personality that lit up the TV screen after the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
My fellow horseplayers may ask: How can you root for a cheater like “Drug O’Neill,” with his history of racing violations? I can easily believe that O’Neill was one of the many U.S. trainers who employed the procedure known as “milkshaking” before the racing industry was testing for evidence of it. But I have scrutinized O’Neill’s more recent statistics and the records of his horses, and I see nothing that looks remotely suspicious.
O’Neill received a suspension last week for an infraction in 2010, but the horse in question was so consistently mediocre that it is almost unimaginable that any larcenous intent was involved. I believe O’Neill is now an honest trainer, and there is no reason to suspect that any of I’ll Have Another’s achievements are tainted.
But the main reason to root for I’ll Have Another is that U.S. horse racing has never needed a shining moment as badly as it does now — a moment that reminds the nation why thoroughbred racing has been a great and compelling sport for centuries.
America’s racing industry has been suffering from a variety of ills for years. Its business has been in sharp decline since the economic crisis of 2008. The sport has failed to produce thoroughbred stars — particularly ones who compete in the Triple Crown series — who can stir the interest of the public at large.
Though most of racing’s woes are national in scope, no segment of the industry has been so beleaguered as New York’s. The New York Racing Association has been a perennial whipping boy for politicians and editorialists, and the anti-NYRA crusade reached a climax this spring when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) executed a virtual state takeover over the sport — not a happy prospect.
Horse racing’s problems are so deep that they are surely not going to be cured in any sense by I’ll Have Another. But perhaps the spectacle of 100,000 people cheering a Triple Crown winner can give the sport a national boost and underscore its importance in New York. That alone is a good reason for racing fans to cheer for I’ll Have Another.