May 19, 2012;Baltimore, MD, USA; Mario Gutierrez aboard I'll Have Another (9) beats Mike E. Smith aboard Bodemeister (7) to win the running of the 137th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

Belmont Stakes 2012: Union Rags Wins Thriller With Late Pass Of Paynter

June 9 marks the running of the 2012 Belmont Stakes.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another, Retired, Returns To California Home

The 2012 Belmont Stakes started out the place where we thought I'll Have Another might make Triple Crown history, and it ended the place where I'll Have Another ended his brilliant racing career much earlier than anyone would have anticipated, retiring on Saturday in a ceremony before the race. Now, according to the Throughbred Times, I'll Have Another is back in California, set for whatever the next stage of his life might bring. (I'm a relative horse-racing novice, but I'm pretty sure the next stage of a thoroughbred's life is usually "lots and lots of horse sex.")

It's a strange ending to the story, but considering the danger that comes with horse-racing injuries it's also a relatively happy one; I'll Have Another didn't break down on track, in front of 20 million fans on TV who watch three races a year—he simply came up lame before the race, and was pulled before things got any worse. With a horse in the Belmont Stakes undercard breaking down and requiring surgery, we were given a glimpse of the much-worse-case scenario.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Union Rags Finally Lives Up To Potential With Thrilling Win

The 2012 Belmont Stakes is in the books, and while it didn't lead to our first Triple Crown winner in more than 30 years—Affirmed's status as the champion to apparently end all champions remains uncontested—the rest of the race's upper class still managed to impress. Union Rags, a disappointment at the Kentucky Derby and a non-entity in the Preakness, finally showed the potential that had him the early Triple Crown favorite with a late burst of speed to pass Paynter, momentarily leaving our soured memories of I'll Have Another's star-crossed Triple Crown run in the dust.

It won't be remembered quite so clearly by history, but Union Rags's victory over Paynter ensured that the race itself wouldn't be quite so irrelevant as the lead-up to it turned out to be—for a few minutes, history was only as important to the Belmont Stakes's viewers as it was the horses, who I'm told don't care particularly for racing history so long as they're fed regularly and allowed to rear up and buck whenever that one Busch commercial comes on. For more information, check out And Down the Stretch They Come, SB Nation's horse-racing specialists, or take a look at SB Nation Studios' collection of strange, occasionally absurd, briefly informative videos right here.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Remaining Horses Are Wild Cards

More: Latest Belmont odds are here.

The 2012 Belmont Stakes is here, with race day in full effect and the race itself just hours away, but most of us watching NBC as casual fans are left with one deeply problematic issue: Now that I'll Have Another has been scratched, the rest of the horses, who haven't had campaign ads run all month on their behalf, are mostly mysteries. Dullahan and Union Rags are something, but the rest of the field? Even the expert scouting reports seem a little underfed. Take this My Adonis report from the great Matt Gardner.

Having read his work I'm sure Matt has all the information there is to have on this horse, a late entrant into the Belmont field, and there isn't much there—he's underperformed before, he has some speed, he's got a pedigree that suggests competence but not at the Belmont's length. If this horse had been in the Triple Crown running we'd know everything about him, his jockey, their family situation, and their owner's job, but now—it's a horse with a name and some odds.

Any of these names at the back—Street Life, Guyana Star Dweej, et al—could have stories just as interesting as I'll Have Another's, except for the one part where they don't win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Which is the result, I guess, of a sport so ephemeral in the public consciousness and filled with so many athletes.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Triple Crown Miss Hamstrings Horse Racing At Awful Moment

The 2012 Belmont Stakes might not have been able to return horse racing's pride of place among American sports, but before I'll Have Another left the race with tendonitis things were looking up for a Triple Crown, one of the few things that could have brought horse-racing into the front of the news cycle for more than the week leading up to each leg. I'll Have Another could have been a celebrity, a horse whose name people remembered and whose stable, maybe, they visited. Now he's just another horse who's won two legs of the Triple Crown without escaping the Belmont Stakes.

Among other entities, NBC, whose ratings are going to crater during the race, must feel pretty rough about the whole thing. But the real loser is horse racing, which needs to find some way to generate interest among casual fans who might be turned into fans outside the Triple Crown season, if only a narrative could find its way into their sports bubble.

Here's hoping I'll Have Another's near-miss inspires more rabid fervor ahead of next year's Kentucky Derby; this injury problem was so sudden that it's bound to stick in peoples' minds when the mint julep hype machine starts humming next spring. Until then, once more it's time to wait until next year.

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2012 Belmont Stakes: NBC's Ratings Will Tumble Without Triple Crown On The Line

After I'll Have Another's late injury and scratch Friday NBC, already the most beleaguered of America's broadcasting big three, could be in for a world of hurt at the 2012 Belmont Stakes. If the New York Times's numbers are any indication the loss of a popular Triple Crown-contesting horse could cut their expected ratings numbers by more than half, a brutal loss to a network that had probably already begun counting its chickens.

I'll Have Another wasn't just any horse, either--he was a popular one, with the right underdog ethos to attract casual horse-racing viewers to the Triple Crown's final leg, and had soaked up so much coverage that it is hard to imagine anyone tuning in to watch the remaining favorites, Dullahan and Union Rags, let alone the little known horses sitting behind even those Kentucky Derby refugees.

If any horse-racing fans out there were frustrated by the relatively mainstream affect of this year's race, well, no problem: The minute I'll Have Another pulled out, so did most of the audience. I just hope you don't hold a stake in Kabletown.

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2012 Belmont Stakes: I'll Have Another Injury Ends Triple Crown Hopes

The 2012 Belmont Stakes just got much less history-making. This is breaking news, but multiple outlets are reporting that I'll Have Another, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, has been scratched from the Belmont Stakes due to injury, ending another year of dashed Triple Crown hopes. That leaves Dullahan and Union Rags the favorites going into Saturday's race, but it also makes Saturday's race much less interesting to the throngs of casual racing fans who were hoping to see the first Triple Crown-winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Anyone who remembers the Barbaro saga can surely understand pulling a horse and being better safe than sorry, but it's still a major disappointment, even if his owner is supposedly kind of sleazy. We'll be following this story—and the suddenly decapitated Belmont Stakes—all the way through to Saturday's race, so stay tuned to this storystream for further updates.

I'll Have Another is the 12th horse since Affirmed's victory to win the Derby and the Preakness and, for whatever reason, prove unable to pull through on Belmont Stakes day. The Triple Crown clock will tick a while longer yet.

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2012 Belmont Stakes: I'll Have Another Is Clutch, According To Would-Be Horse Psychologists

I've seen a lot of 2012 Belmont Stakes coverage so far in my role as SB Nation St. Louis aggregator and commentator, but this is probably the strangest—via SI.com's worth-reading mini-biography of I'll Have Another, a quote from trainer Barry Eiasman about the Triple Crown contender that doesn't just ascribe to him human characteristics—I'm used to that by now—but also ascribes to him human athlete characteristics, adding a specific sport to boot.

Which is to say, at the end of the article I'll Have Another, who is a horse who has never heard of the Triple Crown before, because he doesn't understand English, is described thusly: "He has what it takes... he's the guy you want batting in the ninth inning of the World Series... he will not fold under pressure."

Exclusive footage of I'll Have Another batting in the ninth inning of the World Series.

He will not fold under pressure because he's a horse. You want him batting in the ninth inning of the World Series because the opposing pitcher will be very confused and maybe a little intimidated. On account of he's a horse.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Street Life Is A Mysterious Contender With Triple Crown Upset Potential

The big 2012 Belmont Stakes names—Triple Crown contender I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags—have dominated coverage of Saturday's race for so long that it's hard, sometimes, to remember other horses are being allowed to compete. Nevertheless, with betting continuing it's time for the underdogs to get into this fight, at least for the pros out there. One of them that's been getting particular buzz is Street Life, a horse almost nobody's seen because he's hardly raced.

Matt Gardner, at SB Nation proper, writes in his scouting report that Street Life is a closer, which could be bad in a slow-paced race, but is also improving every time people see him, which is what's created the positive, kind of excited uncertainty that's pushed him up to the front of some bettors' minds. (He's also known for his solid genetic links—he was sired by Street Sense, winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby.)

The Belmont Stakes is going to be dominated by I'll Have Another until the moment he's won or lost the Triple Crown. But even behind Dullahan and company there are interesting horses around.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: A Look At The Triple Crown Race's Biggest Underdog

The 2012 Belmont Stakes, particular media coverage of it, will—until or unless someone else wins it—inevitably, and understandably, come down to one horse: I'll Have Another. Which is not to say it's not nice to see the occasional article about the race's biggest underdogs in the runup to its June 9 date with history or near-history. Example: This Daily Racing Form piece about Ravelo's Boy, whose jockey is apparently as much an underdog as his horse.

Ravelo's Boy joins Guyana Star Dweej—my vote for horse-as-science-fiction-TV-show name of the year—and Five Sixteen as 50-to-1 underdogs, all the way back from I'll Have Another in front at 4-to-5. None of them are likely winners, but all of them are running in a race that—if they lose in the right order—will have a few books written about it, down the line. Which is a very strange way to be a witness to history, if you think about it.

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2012 Belmont Stakes: I'll Have Another Owner Operates "Scam" Lenders CashCall

Whoever owns him, Triple Crown contender I'll Have Another is one of horse racing's best stories, and a major contributor to clamor surrounding the 2012 Belmont Stakes. But it's worth noting that J. Paul Reddam, his owner, noted here and elsewhere as a former philosophy professor who runs a "company that makes unsecured loans to high-risk investors," is actually the owner of the same CashCall, inc., promoted by the late Gary Coleman and derided by CNBC a few years back as worthy of a "Scam Alert" for loans with real interest rates of 99.25%. (They're actually higher now, according to this page.)

You can form your own opinion of high-risk-focused lenders, or whatever neutral term we can apply to them, but the characterization of him in the above Associated Press article as an ex-professor who just happens to work in finance is probably glossing over the issue, even with the suggestion at the end of the article that he's "under scrutiny" in various states. This article from 2004 suggests CashCall doesn't necessarily fall under the broad category of predatory lending, but Frank Deford, writing for Sports Illustrated, says they've already been accused of usury in West Virginia.

Perhaps worse yet: Reddam founded DiTech, who, a decade back, ran some of the most annoying commercials in the history of television. (Bodemeister is reported to have scowled hammily and said, "Lost another race to DiTech!" after finishing second in the Preakness.) It's a good thing I'll Have Another is such a likable horse.

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2012 Belmont Stakes: Late Additions Threaten I'll Have Another's Triple Crown Bid

The 2012 Belmont Stakes field grew recently, with experienced team Kelly Breen and George Hall sending My Adonis, an understudy in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, into the field at opening odds of 20-to-1. Not quite enough to get I'll Have Another shaking in his horse-boots about a lost Triple Crown bid, sure, but enough to complicate a field that's already difficult to handicap. Breen and Hall won last year's Belmont Stakes with another underdog, Ruler on Ice.

My Adonis joins a field of 12 horses, with Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another the favorite at 4-to-5 and Derby competitors Union Rags and Dullahan trailing as his top competitors. Paynter and Street Life are the only other horses favored ahead of My Adonis, with the 50-to-1 booby prize going to Ravelo's Boy, Guyana Star Dweej, and Five Sixteen.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another Is Ready For Belmont's Length; Is Mario Gutierrez?

The 2012 Belmont Stakes, thanks to the Triple Crown alarm being pulled, is being viewed entirely through one horse, as happens whenever the same one wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes; as a result all the annual topics of discussion—especially the race's gargantuan 1 1/2 mile length—are being filtered through I'll Have Another in particular, even though every horse will have to deal with the same issues on race day.

The good news, then, is that I'll Have Another, according to recent reports, is prepared for the grueling Stakes. At least, he's as prepared as all the other horses, which makes him as much a threat to win the Triple Crown as he would be if its last jewel were held in Kentucky or on any other familiar track.

The real question, I guess, is whether the human in the equation, trainer Mario Gutierrez, is able to adapt as well as his competitors. That's a question worth asking, and you can rest assured that everyone is asking it. Some examples:

For more Belmont Stakes 2012 news, coverage, and analysis, check out our Belmont Stakes storystream.
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Belmont Stakes 2012: Triple Crown Race Just Part Of New York's Sporting Glut Saturday

If I'll Have Another wins the 2012 Belmont Stakes and secures the Triple Crown, I don't think horse racing will have any trouble staving off its sporting competitors for Saturday's biggest event, but the Associated Press does a nice job of summarizing the sports madness that will be going on across New York on June 9. In addition to Elmont's pride and joy—and possibly the first Triple Crown win since Affirmed—there'll be the Mets and Yankees, a world-class track meet, a Stanley Cup game, and Brazil against Argentina in an exhibition soccer match.

Four sports Americans are often indifferent about—horse racing, hockey, soccer, and track and field—bringing their most impressive, casual-crowd-friendly sides to bear against the national pastime's subway series, with the Belmont Stakes having the added bonus of a late Triple Crown push. If nothing else, I think some sociologist PhD students could do some fascinating things with the final data for attendance, viewership, et cetera.

As for me, as someone who lives nowhere near New York I will have the benefit of taking in all of these events at once, through television and the internet. Not quite the same ambience, but at least I don't have to make the touch decision the AP forced on its panelists.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Mario Gutierrez In The Triple Crown Hot Seat This Week

The Triple Crown mostly wins immortality for the horse that wears it, but at the 2012 Belmont Stakes there's a human with a shot at permanent legend-status on the line, too—Mario Gutierrez, the 25-year-old jockey who's ridden I'll Have Another to wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and comes into the Belmont Stakes with the target on his back for the first time.

An underdog like his horse—Gutierrez grew up poor in Mexico before emerging as a professional jockey—he'll need to acclimate to Belmont's extreme length and strange surface just as much as I'll Have Another. And he may not be under quite as much pressure as his horse, but he has the added hindrance of being able to read his own press.

Jockeys have held mixed opinions about his chances; in that particular article you have a Hall of Famer saying no chance and a other jockeys suggesting he has the talent and the poise to pull it off. All he can do is continue to work in his own style—and it seems, if his pre-race comments are any indication, that he's prepared to do that.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: The Triple Crown's Last Jewel Is Tough To Handicap

I'll Have Another is the heavy favorite going into the 2012 Belmont Stakes, currently sitting at 4-5, but the Los Angeles Times asks an interesting question Tuesday morning: How much do the oddsmakers know? As it turns out, the answer isn't very much when it comes to the Belmont Stakes, an oddball of a race that combines massive public attention with a longer distance and a clutch of horses with significantly different workloads.

I'm not sure whether the actual narratives Chris Korman uses to discount I'll Have Another's chances are relevant, but the statistic he brings up—that the favorite has won the Belmont Stakes all of three times since 1995—certainly suggest that, whether or not he knows what makes a Belmont winner, nobody else does either. I'll Have Another has a fine shot at completing the Triple Crown, but only because he's a good horse. His being favored since winning the Preakness is only evidence, at this point, that he'll pay out terribly if you bet on him.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another, Dullahan, And Company Enter Detention Barn

The 2012 Belmont Stakes is nearing race day—that's Sunday, June 9—and the much-detested detention barn has opened for business, sending I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags, and the rest of the competitors out of their old digs and into a kind of 1984-for-horses set-up, in which all of them will be watched at all times and their humans' comings and goings monitored by camera and registration.

It's enough to make any trainer furious, and I mean that literally—ask nearly every trainer at the Belmont Stakes in 2012 and you will get an angry answer about this detention barn. The Associated Press has some great quotes from several of them; my personal favorite is Michael Matz—of Union Rags—asking whether they made the rules up as they went along. The early consensus appears to be that the regulators have overreached rather severely for this year's race, and that seems unlikely to change on its way to becoming the late consensus. I'll say this for horse trainers—they don't seem particularly bound by the rules of the athlete cliche, and they have no problems biting the hand that helps distribute the feed.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Union Rags A Forgotten Contender As Race Day Nears

Almost all the 2012 Belmont Stakes talk heading into race week has been focused on I'll Have Another and that horse's Triple Crown chances, and whatever's left has of late been soaked up by Dullahan—that horse and his trainer have emerged, for oddsmakers and sportswriters, as the most credible claimant to the title of Triple Crown spoiler. So where does that leave Union Rags, a favorite entering the Kentucky Derby whose run as marquee horse seemed to vanish the moment that race ended?

Well, not nearly as far back as an easy glance at the media coverage would suggest. Early odds have him at 6-to-1—just behind Dullahan's 5-to-1 in back of I'll Have Another's 4-to-5. Like Dullahan, Union Rags avoided the Preakness to allow more time to prepare for a grueling morning at the Belmont Stakes—and like Dullahan, all the superlatives that followed the horse heading into Kentucky should still apply.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Dullahan Emerges As I'll Have Another's Designated Top Challenger

When Bodemeister bowed out of the 2012 Belmont Stakes after just missing wins over I'll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, he left the surprise Triple Crown contender without a legendary, screenplay-selling foe to attempt to vanquish in the story's final act. Into that breach, after some weeks, appears to have stepped Dullahan, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, left intentionally out of the Preakness to keep him fresh for this long final leg.

Here's an AP article about Dullahan's trainer's perfect contentment with playing the spoiler, which will have to be changed into a steely, sociopathic disdain for society's awards and applause in the screenplay but will, after that, do quite nicely for a villain. Dullahan's an excellent horse, by all accounts, and in the last few days it looks like he and Dale Romans have successfully taken the second-largest share of media attention ahead of race day Saturday.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Horse Chiropractic Just As Weird As Human Chiropractic

God bless the New York Times-for finding, in the midst of their 2012 Belmont Stakes coverage, a story that both has nothing to do with I'll Have Another's Triple Crown chances and has introduced me to one of the weirdest professions I've ever heard of. The occupation, straight out of a Sim City 2000 newspaper: Horse Chiropractor.

As a doctor's son I've been brought up suspicious of chiropractic as a general rule, but I feel confused enough about horse physiology to let Larry "Thumper" Jones-the supposed horse chiropractor in question and apparently a fan of the human variety-speak for himself in claiming that he isn't a chiropractor, as others would suggest, but actually "a positionalist," interested in the horses performing a "biomechanical adjustment" under his astute care.

Apparently he's been instrumental in turning I'll Have Another into a Triple Crown contender from a sore-shinned, "lethargic" has-been-so whatever works, I guess, so long as Thumper stays away from my back.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Detention Barn Controversy Shows Horse Racing’s Tense Regulatory Side

Ladies and gentlemen, meet detention barns. This is the kind of controversy we the casual sports fans are more used to dredging up in baseball and football-the sports where we follow everyone all year long, and where figures like Bud Selig and Roger Goodell have, through steroid imbroglios and bounty suspensions, become as famous as most of the players. But ahead of the 2012 Belmont Stakes on June 9 it looks like we're going to become plenty aware of the current regulatory environment in thoroughbred racing-or at least throughbred racing's most important public showcase.

The detention barn is the New York State Racing and Wagering Board's attempt to keep trainers honest as they wend their way through the last days before the race, but it's had the side effect of making them feel, to a man, like crooks-even the ones who aren't crooks.

A little of that is inevitable, but this detention barn, where the horses will remain from Wednesday until Saturday, seems overboard as Bob Ehalt describes it: Limited access, instant blood tests, unlimited searches of gear and feed, and guards and entry-exit logs all the way through to race day. All of this could have been implemented, Ehalt seems to say, even then-except they failed to properly inform the people it affected.

The RWB is in the public eye for one race a year, and so far it looks like their 2012 date with the public eye is a bit of a bust.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Teams Revolt Over Atmosphere Of Suspicion Ahead Of Triple Crown Race

The 2012 Belmont Stakes is the most important thoroughbred race since the last time a horse was within range of the Triple Crown-that was Big Brown, who faltered in the home stretch in 2008-and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board is right to treat it as such. Someone caught cheating in racing's one annual moment in the public eye, with a Triple Crown chance at stake, could set the sport back years with casual fans. With I'll Have Another trainer Doug O'Neill already set to be suspended for different drug violations, things are already fraught.

But given the way trainers for most of the star horses have responded to their newest regulations, it looks like they've officially gone too far in their attempts to tighten up security ahead of the June 9 race. Dullahan's trainer, Dale Romans, went the farthest in his criticism, telling the Associated Press that the move "failed to put the welfare of horses first" in their decision to open up a detention barn into which all the competing horses would be moved.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another Owes Triple Crown Chances To Bodemeister

The 2012 Belmont Stakes won't have a climactic Affirmed-slipping-past-Alydar moment, but I'll Have Another and his enormous new fanbase are probably just fine making that trade for heightened Triple Crown odds. Don't get me wrong: It might be nice to witness a new Triple Crown rivalry for the ages, but it's only with Bodemeister out of the race-after narrow second-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes-that I'll Have Another has become a favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and go down in history like Affirmed-sans-Alydar.

Horse racing in general, now more than 30 years without a popular champion, is probably equally willing to make that trade. Where Big Brown, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones all failed, I'll Have Another could succeed-in becoming the horse that gets at least a few casual young fans into the sport, and that gives a new generation of casual fans a chance to witness history (and then spend the next 30 years or so boring their children about it.)

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Triple Crown Genetics In Optimizer's Favor

The 2012 Belmont Stakes is on June 9—still more than a week away—and I was beginning to think we were out of interesting storylines to discuss already. But Maryam Louise, on Yahoo!, went the extra mile in her search for Triple Crown narratives: Which horses shared a bloodline with the most recent Triple Crown winners? Affirmed, as it turns out, was shut out of this Belmont Stakes field—but his rival, Alydar, and the penultimate Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, are all over the track.

Read the whole article, but as it turns out none of the top contenders—I'll Have Another, Union Rags, and Dullahan—figure into her analysis. Alpha, recently pulled out of the race, is in the line of both Alydar and Seattle Slew, while sleeper picks Optimizer and Paynter are both Seattle Slew descendants. Meanwhile, Guyana Star Dweej—and this one really surprised me—is a distant relative of a large dog I had when I was a kid.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Are I'll Have Another's Triple Crown Chances Dimmed By Rule Changes, Imminent Suspension?

The preamble to the 2012 Belmont Stakes is more busy than ever—even adjusting for the fact that this is a possible Triple Crown year. I'll Have Another, the lucky horse, finds himself racing under the cloud of his trainer Doug O'Neill's imminent suspension over alleged doping violations for another horse. As rules attempting to prevent the same thing tightened at Belmont it even became necessary to ask O'Neill whether he felt he was being discriminated against. It's the kind of thing that could make even a Triple Crown win tarnished by scandal, right?

I don't think so. Shadiness and dark clouds are only called troubling or concerning in scenarios like this one until the athlete wins; if I'll Have Another takes the Triple Crown, they'll morph rapidly into the kind of capital-A, morally unimpeachable Adversity that fits beautifully into a movie about, say, Seabiscuit or Roy Hobbs. If he loses, we'll forget about this; if he wins, we'll call it the part in the Disney movie where it suddenly seems like everything is falling apart, only for all the complications to stop mattering by the time the credits roll.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another Shakes Another Contender As Triple Crown Race Nears

I'll Have Another's biggest 2012 Belmont Stakes break might have already come when Bodemeister, the Alydar to his Affirmed, dropped out of the race after another near-miss at the Preakness Stakes, but he lost another potential competitor Thursday when Alpha dropped out of the race. The Daily Racing Form suggests a temperature was the culprit, with the illness forcing the horse out of training in the crucial run-up to the New York race.

That leaves 11 horses in the running for the race on June 9, with only sleeper favorite Dullahan and Union Rags still in among the Triple Crown contestant's stakes-winning competitors; in addition to them and I'll Have Another there should be Ravelo's Boy, Unstoppable U, Street Life, Paynter, Optimizer, Guyana Star Dweej, Five Sixteen, and Atigun.

(This may be irrelevant, but Guyana Star Dweej is one of my favorite inexplicable thoroughbred names in a long, long time. Treasure it.)

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Will Jockey Mario Guiterrez's Inexperience Matter For Triple Crown Run?

It's tough to be a narrative in the 2012 Belmont Stakes. The sheer din of the Triple Crown tends to drown out most other storylines going into its final race, and this year's, with I'll Have Another a win away from becoming the first horse since Affirmed to win the Triple Crown, is no exception. But if sportswriters were looking for a narrative to hammer into our heads over the next week or so, they could do worse than I'll Have Another's jockey, 25-year-old Mark Gutierrez, whose inexperience has become a bone of contention among horse-racing insiders.

The Daily Racing Form caught up with Steve Cauthen, who piloted Affirmed for his Triple Crown run back in 1978, for a particularly experienced perspective on the matter—Cauthen was all of 18 when he pulled it off, and has nearly tripled his lifespan since, though he had a significantly longer track record than Gutierrez at the time.

For his part, he isn't worried about the current Triple Crown contender's mindset. It's always good to hear a retired athlete do something other than bemoan how things have declined since the good old days.

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2012 Belmont Stakes: Why It's So Hard To Finish A Triple Crown Bid

The Triple Crown is horse racing's crowning public event, but Triple Crown near-misses are its stock-in-trade—since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978 11 horses have come into the crown's final jewel with the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes already won only to fall short for one reason or other. Into the 2012 Belmont Stakes trots I'll Have Another, underdog winner of both earlier races. So: Why is it so difficult to take a Triple Crown bid all the way?

Chris Korman of the Baltimore Sun has some reasons. Chief among them is the race's length; it's 1 1/2 miles, a quarter-mile longer than the Derby and an unfamiliar length for most three-year-old horses. Horse-racing insiders also seem uncomfortable with the idea of I'll Have Another's inexperienced jockey, Mario Guttierez, knowing how to pilot the horse through that unfamiliar terrain in particular.

For all that, the reason it's toughest is that winning any one race is extremely tough; while I'll Have Another's odds aren't any longer for having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes already, it's hard to believe they give him any forward momentum, either. Particularly because he's a horse.

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another Remains Favorite, Dullahan Draws Interest

Going into the 2012 Belmont Stakes I'll Have Another has already shaken his toughest competitor, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes bridesmaid Bodemeister, but he'll have an old competitor back to challenge him as he goes for the first Triple Crown since 1978 on June 9. Dullahan, who finished third in the Derby before he was held out of the Preakness, is back for more, and early predictions have him behind only I'll Have Another.

Union Rags, who the New York Daily News likes even more than Dullahan, is also considered a strong contender among horses who might play the spoiler role. He was a Derby favorite before a disappointing performance there, and like Dullahan was held out of the Preakness in preparation for this race.

I'll Have Another being the story of this race is simply unavoidable; he's already had an outstanding run, and he's one race from becoming a legend. But as we get closer to the day of the race we're likely to hear more about Dullahan, Union Rags, and the other competitors looking to snatch a piece of that history for their own.

More 2012 Belmont Stakes coverage from SB Nation St. Louis:

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Belmont Stakes 2012: Triple Crown Rush Great News For NBC's Ratings

The possibility of a 2012 Triple Crown in June's Belmont Stakes is great news for I'll Have Another, the horse who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes to set it up, but it's even better news for the human sponsors and broadcasters of the event—USA Today reports on NBC's heightened ratings expectations here, in one of those pieces that seems completely obvious... the moment you read it.

Apparently the Belmont's ratings expectations more than double in years in which a Triple Crown contender emerges from the Preakness, bouncing from four percent to 10% of TV-watching households—which means I'll Have Another's late victory over Bodemeister probably made NBC much richer than all the gamblers at the track who bet on that particular exacta.

As sports programming becomes more important—in the age of watch-later dramas on TiVo and Hulu and Netflix and increasing reality TV competition—that boost could be huge to a struggling network like NBC. Although personally I'm just happy they renewed Parks and Recreation—they should consider this a kind of cosmic thank-you-note for keeping the best sitcom on television around for another year.

More 2012 Belmont Stakes coverage from SB Nation St. Louis:

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another Trainers Speak Human Sports Cliche Fluently

Ahead of next month's 2012 Belmont Stakes I was reading some wire reports on I'll Have Another, and I was reminded pleasantly of just how alike all sports figures are, human or equine: Even in the I'll Have Another camp, they speak human sports-cliche. Crash Davis would be proud. He "looks great, fantastic," according to people who have a vested interest in the horse looking great and fantastic.

I've yet to manage to score an exclusive interview from I'll Have Another for SB Nation St. Louis—I'm still working all my sources—but I did get this statement from one of my horse correspondents, from a conference call he conducted after the race.

"I gave it 110% out there, and just tried to leave it all on the track. You know, my competitors are all great—Bodemeister, he's the best. But I gave it my all, and I just have to give it all up to Horse-God, for getting me through this race. We'll see about the Belmont Stakes, I'm just going one day at a time."

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Belmont Stakes 2012: I'll Have Another's Triple Crown Odds Begin At 3/2

The 2012 Belmont Stakes will be more interesting to casual horse-racing fans than most, with surprise star I'll Have Another just one race away from the first Triple Crown since 1978, but that doesn't make the release of the Belmont Stakes odds any less important. Early odds have the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes champion at 3/2, suggesting bettors plan on limiting their exposure to the rush of fans eager to put money down on the possible hero-horse.

The last Triple Crown winner, 1978's Affirmed, was a favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, if never quite reaching 1-10-favorite/Secretariat levels with Alydar on his tail. I'll Have Another was an underdog in Kentucky and again in the Preakness, behind Bodemeister; now he's a favorite almost by default, with the Belmont Stakes a national topic of conversation and his primary rival dropping out after losing both races to America's new most-famous horse.

Here's more on the 2012 Triple Crown competition from SB Nation Studios; subscribe to get more leading up the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

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