It's been an exciting racing season thus far, and Saturday's Belmont Stakes marks the third and final leg for I'll Have Another to potentially win the Triple Crown for the first time since Affirmed did it in 1978.
While I'm certainly rooting for him, it appears most of America is too, as his morning line odds of 4/5 are simply too low, showing sentiment prevailing over reason in the public mood.
I'll Have Another has the distinct disadvantage of running against two excellent closers, both of whom are fresh � as they were held out of the Preakness to focus on the Belmont.
Plus, at the 1-1/2 mile distance, a full 1/4 mile longer than the Kentucky Derby, it's easy for a horse to tire who has run in his third Triple Crown race in just five weeks.
On paper, Dullahan (5 post position) looks like the horse to beat at this extended. He was a fast-closing third in the Derby, and he should relish the extra distance. As the (5-1) second choice, his odds are the best of the day � especially looking at the blowout 45 & 4/5 seconds workout at 1/2 mile, which shows a horse incredibly ready to run.
Union Rags (3 post position, 6-1 third choice) also should relish the extra distance. He's a slow starter and has had some bad luck in finding racing lanes late, but the smaller field and long oval should suit his style for a strong closing kick.
I'll Have Another (11 post) is simply a game horse. I expect him to fight on in the stretch but give way near the end, as the extra distance and disadvantage of what his gutsy Preakness finish may have taken out of the tank will likely prove too much to overcome. If he can transcend it, he'd be a most deserving Triple Crown champion.
After these three it's a distinct drop down to the next level � here's how I'm playing it (for entertainment purposes only, of course):
$20 to Win on Dullahan (5)
$10 to Win on Union Rags (3)
$5 Exacta Box on 5,3,11
$2 Exacta Box 5 with ALL
$1 Trifecta 5 with 3,11 with ALL
Price is naturally a humble guy and he neglects to mention that he nailed the Preakness in our BigTrends analysis - he had the top three finishers, in exact order (no easy feat regardless of a limited field). In the BigTrends Kentucky Derby analysis, Price & myself also combined to do very well handicapping that race as well - we both had I'll Have Another in our top four, for example, and were all over other horses in the Top 3/4 (the Derby is normally the one with the biggest fields and highest odds/payouts).
The Belmont is pretty much a five-horse race in my view. I'll Have Another didn't get respect from the oddsmakers before the Derby & Preakness, but now it seems he's getting too much respect with (4/5) morning line odds.
As Price mentioned, we're rooting for the horse to pull off the first Triple Crown in 34 years, BUT the low odds combined with the grueling runs in Preakness & Derby and the 'jinx' that has befallen many other horses who were unable to win the third leg may see him finish second or third.
Dullahan is a real closer and may well have won the Kentucky Derby if it was a bit longer � which the Belmont is. I think that horse will break the Triple Crown dream hearts on Saturday.
Union Rags is the third favorite in the morning line, but I'm throwing him out of the top three - this seems like a horse that always has an excuse for not performing. In his place I like Street Life, who also has a closing kick will have better odds. Paynter (#9, 8-1) also could surprise and finish top three, although that seems a little less likely to me.
With that in mind, here's my projected order of finish and hypothetical bets:
#5 Dullahan (5-1)
#11 I'll Have Another (4-5)
#1 Street Life (12-1)
$20 on #5 to Win, Place, Show
$2 Exacta Box 5, 11, 1, 9
$1 Trifecta Box 5, 11, 1, 9