The best thing that could happen for horse racing is for I’ll Have Another to win another at the Preakness.
The horse, with jockey Mario Gutierrez, went from 15-to-1 shot to Kentucky Derby winner two weeks ago. Now the three-year-old colt is the only competitor in the field with a chance to capture the sport’s elusive Triple Crown.
Why is that significant? A win by I’ll Have Another on Saturday would keep the possibility of a Triple Crown alive and would maintain the interest of the masses.
After all, 34 years have passed since Affirmed won the ultimate trifecta: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
You try to prepare better mentally, physically, at this level.
- Jockey Mario Gutierrez
Thoroughbred racing is a niche sport, but each year over a month-long span, the “Sport of Kings” has the opportunity to appeal to a national audience. The spectacle – and hats – of the Kentucky Derby draws in casual fans. However, the Preakness determines whether they will tune in again.
A win at Pimlico by the Derby champion sets up the possibility of a Triple Crown heading into the event’s third leg. A loss and the excitement surrounding the sport all but disappears.
Unlike other sports, horse racing doesn’t benefit from parity. Reports show as much as an 80 percent drop in interest between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes if the Derby winner loses in Baltimore which has been the case the last three years.
Gutierrez is hoping to break that streak. So far, he is undefeated aboard I’ll Have Another, winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby in the lead-up to the Derby.
“You try to prepare better mentally, physically, at this level,” Gutierrez said of the sport’s Triple Crown races. “You have to be more focused. There’s more attention from the media. Everybody’s asking questions.”
The main question is can I’ll Have Another win again? Bodemeister, who finished second at the Derby, entered Saturday as the favorite at 8-to-5. I’ll Have Another was a close second at 5-to-2.
“He’s a really nice horse,” Gutierrez said of his mount."He’s fast and he gives 100 percent. I think I can race him with anyone else.”
I’ll Have Another proved that at Churchill Downs. Now, everyone will be watching – and wagering -- to see if he and Gutierrez can cross the finish line first again.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz