Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'll Have Another Showing Shades of Affirmed

Among the most well-known stretch duels in the history of racing, most racing fans can easily picture the image of Affirmed and Alydar deadlocked at the eighth pole at Belmont Park as the pair of chestnut Thoroughbreds battled down the stretch of the twelve-furlong race, their jockeys striving to guide their mounts to a victory in the Belmont Stakes. For Affirmed, a Triple Crown was on the line. For Alydar, the opportunity of redemption was just ahead.
Affirmed's grave
Photo by Terri Cage

The clash between the two in the Belmont did not deteriorate at the eighth pole, but rather, it continued all the way to the wire, at which it was Affirmed that got his nose ahead, capturing not only a win in the Test of the Champion, but the title of Triple Crown winner. He was only the eleventh horse in history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, and since then, not a single horse has achieved the same feat.

But I’ll Have Another looks to change that on Saturday, June 9 when he goes to post in the Belmont Stakes. The Derby and Preakness winner will attempt to become the twelfth Triple Crown victor, rather than the twelfth horse since Affirmed won the Triple Crown to triumph in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but fall short in the Belmont.

Remarkably, I’ll Have Another possesses many similarities to Affirmed. These parallels, which were briefly discussed in my article “I’ll Have Another Keeps Hopes Alive in Preakness,” do not only exist in the two Thoroughbreds’ racing endeavors, but also in their pedigrees and phenotype.

Their connections begin with the female families from which they descend. Their dam lines do not coincide until you stumble across Gallopade, a gray mare born in 1828 who won the eighteen-furlong Doncaster Cup. Continue to backtrack and you will find that both Affirmed and I’ll Have Another hail from female family twenty-three, which has also yielded the additional Kentucky Derby winners Burgoo King, Kingman, Lil E. Tee, Mine That Bird, Ponder, Tim Tam, Winning Colors, and Zev. This female family has proven to be filled with stamina, producing such stayers as the champion Ardross, a winner of several prestigious races at distances of over two miles in Chanticleer, the Grand National victor Cortolvin, and the great filly Twilight Tear, who won several route races.

Of course, the most obvious relationship between Affirmed and I’ll Have Another to those unfamiliar with the sport of horse racing is their appearance. Like Affirmed, I’ll Have Another is a mahogany-colored chestnut with a fairly small white marking on his face. His similarities to Affirmed in exterior extend even further, however. Comparable to Affirmed, I’ll Have Another is a robust individual with a slender neck that ties in appropriately to a powerful, sloping shoulder. The angle of their strong shoulders allows each Thoroughbred to be very well-balanced individuals, being easily divided into thirds at the girth and flank. Like Affirmed, I’ll Have Another also has a long, stout hip that allows him to propel himself forward, giving him much length to his stride.

One of the most riveting parts of I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown campaign is his young, charismatic jockey, Mario Gutierrez. This is yet another similarity I’ll Have Another shares with Affirmed, who was ridden by the compelling teenager, Steve Cauthen. Though seven years older than Cauthen was when he captured the Triple Crown aboard Affirmed, Gutierrez has only been race riding for six years. Both riders quickly became successful, each winning riding titles within their first year of riding races. Once they each hit the national headlines, they immediately became immensely successful. For instance, Mario Gutierrez’s first grade one victory came in the Santa Anita Derby, aboard I’ll Have Another no less, and he then followed up that win with his Triple Crown journey.

A few parallels between the horses’ trail to the Triple Crown can be found as well. I’ll Have Another, like Affirmed, made starts in California and New York as a juvenile – though Affirmed also raced in Maryland once as a two-year-old. Both colts contested in the Hopeful Stakes (GI) at the renowned Saratoga Race Course in New York, though their results were completely different. I’ll Have Another struggled over the sloppy track and finished sixth of ten, whereas Affirmed met rival Alydar – who ironically appears in I’ll Have Another’s pedigree – for the third time and prevailed by a half-length. As three-year-olds, both colts prepared for the Triple Crown at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California with the San Gabriel Mountains as a beautiful backdrop. Each Thoroughbred captured California’s premier Kentucky Derby prep, the Santa Anita Derby, despite doing it in very different fashions. Whereas Affirmed set the pace for the majority of the nine-furlong race before drawing off to an eight-length victory, I’ll Have Another sat off the leader prior to running down Creative Cause for a nose win. Yet both colts ended a dry spell for Santa Anita Derby victors to triumph in the Run for the Roses: Affirmed was the first Santa Anita Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby in nine years, while I’ll Have Another was the first winner of California’s most significant Derby prep to capture the Derby in twenty-three years.

In both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, both Affirmed and I’ll Have Another faced a fierce rival. For Affirmed, he went up against Alydar, who he had already formed a rivalry with as a result of their six meetings as juveniles. In the Triple Crown, Affirmed bested Alydar, defeating him in the Derby by 1 ½ lengths and in the Preakness by a neck. Astonishingly, these are the same margins by which I’ll Have Another conquered rival Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, respectively. However, unlike, Alydar, Bodemeister will dodge the Belmont, in which Affirmed battled Alydar intensely down the stretch to prevail by a head.

It is eerie how similar I’ll Have Another has proven to be to Affirmed. It is the hope of racing fans worldwide that the son of Flower Alley will continue to be similar to the most recent Triple Crown winner, as that would, of course, provide him with a Triple Crown victory, thus ending the thirty-four-year drought. Similar in appearance and fight, I’ll Have Another has shown the same determination as Affirmed while hailing from the same female family and participating in similar racing endeavors. With any luck, these parallels are not just coincidences, but rather a hint of what is to come on June 9.

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  1. I really am impressed with I'll Have Another. My OTTB is a great-grandson of both Affirmed and Secretariat, but he never won a race and was retired from racing. Thank goodness he went straight to a rescue and then to me, instead of going to slaughter. Quad is a wonderfully quiet, thoughtful gelding and I love him dearly.

    1. I'm very impressed with I'll Have Another as well. That is so great that you own an OTTB like Quad! And very cool about his Affirmed and Secretariat heritage! My own OTTB, Dexter, is a great-grandson of Affirmed and a great-great grandson of Secretariat. OTTBs are truly awesome.

    2. As are OTAs.. off-track Arabians.
      My own sweet boy, Firlej, was a phenomenal flop at Delaware Park. As seen on his Equibase, he came in very close to last while "passing tiring rivals" in all 10 of his maiden claimers. Luckily for Firlej, he went on to become an exceptional endurance horse.
      Nice article.