That most elusive crown

I'll Have Another tries at Belmont for racing immortality

Flash back to June 10, 1978. It’s a sun-drenched Saturday, and on the homestretch at Belmont Park an epic plays out. Ridden by a profusely talented teenager named Steve Cauthen, Affirmed noses out Alydar and gains horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Thirty-four years later, we’re still waiting for another. So maybe it takes a horse called, fittingly enough, I’ll Have Another, to end the drought.

The only problem is that we’ve had these thoughts before, 11 different times. That’s how many horses have grabbed the Kentucky Derby and snared the Preakness since the spring of ’78, only to find that the grueling 1 ½ mile trek around the oval on Long Island is too much to pull off.

You name the circumstance, it’s happened. From injuries to Charismatic (1999) and Big Brown (2007) to valiant efforts from Pleasant Colony (1981), War Emblem (2002) and Funny Cide (2005) that fell short, the heartaches are plentiful.

Sometimes, as in Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989), a rival – Bet Twice, and then Easy Goer – steps up and wins big, which masks the disappointment. Or they lead at the top of the stretch, as Silver Charm did in 1997 and Smarty Jones did in 2006, but can’t finish it off.

Or, most agonizing, there was 1998, and Real Quiet. He had it, it seemed, with 100 yards to go, but Victory Gallop caught up and forced a photo finish. The wait for that photo was as tense a moment as I’ve ever encountered in a lifetime of following sports. And when the picture showed Real Quiet beaten by the smallest of noses – well, talk about a deflated balloon.

Every time, you think this will be the year. Every time, it isn’t. So why get pulled in again with I’ll Have Another as he takes his Belmont bow this Saturday?

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