Well, start with the trips he had in both of the first two jewels. Mario Gutierrez, a heretofore unknown jockey from Mexico by way of Canada, had never rode the Derby before May 5, but he handled Churchill Downs like an old pro, laying off the furious pace of Bodemeister and saving his best run for the stretch.
More impressive was what happened in the Preakness. Bodemeister set a slower pace at Pimlico, saving himself for the final push over the shorter 1 3/16 mile distance, and turned for home in charge. And I’ll Have Another still caught him inches from the wire, a masterpiece of patience from Gutierrez.
A further reason to believe that this is the year is that Bodemeister is not coming to Belmont. Instead of savoring the Alydar-Bet Twice-Easy Goer role of spoiler (which may or may not work), Bob Baffert is not bringing him to New York. Is that a proverbial white flag?
Of course, there will be plenty of refreshed challengers who didn’t go in Louisville or Baltimore, leading to a common obstacle to a modern Triple Crown. Simply put, these colts aren’t raced as much as in previous generations, so they don’t get a chance to build stamina. Too much risk, say the breeders, thinking of stud fees once they’re done circling ovals.
This brings us to Doug O’Neill. A well-respected California trainer, O’Neill had never saddled a winner in a Triple Crown race before I’ll Have Another. Not only is he talented, he also is a good spokesman for a sport banished to the American fringes.
Yet O’Neill has faced his share of controversy, mostly around the allegations that some of his horses took a “milkshake” of fluids designed to prevent fatigue. Four different charges have surfaced, one that led to a 180-day suspension in California, later reduced to 45 when it was found that one of his horses did have an elevated level of TCO2, but it wasn’t from milkshaking.