If it were easy, everyone would do it.
There are reasons the 11 horses who have won racing's Triple Crown remain in a club more exclusive than Studio 54 in its heyday. One glance at the 11 horses who have tried and failed to complete the sweep since Affirmed became the last to pull it off in 1978 reveals how even some of the sport's all-time greats were tripped up by myriad factors — some of which were in their control and some of which were pure dumb luck.
The contenders I'll Have Another will face Saturday represent only some of the obstacles he'll have to clear to end the 34-year drought. As a look back through the near misses over the decades reveals, it is clear that wrestling fate into submission on Belmont day will play as key a role as his innate talent. Here are the 11 since 1978 who have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes only to come up short in the Belmont:
Spectacular Bid (1979)
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Issues coming into the Belmont: Jockey Ron Franklin was inexperienced and let other riders get into his head.
Belmont excuse: Trainer Bud Delp claimed Bid stepped on safety pin the morning of the race causing him to be lame. Pin or no pin, Franklin chased an 85-1 long shot early and moved too soon during the Belmont, leaving Bid to get passed by Coastal and fade to third.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: It is unfair to compare any horse to Bid as his ability was legendary. Though I'll Have Another's jockey Mario Gutierrez is also a novice when it comes to Belmont, he has already demonstrated more cool than Franklin during the run-up to the Triple Crown races.
Pleasant Colony (1981)
Issues coming in: No real knocks on his form but had a late-running style that isn't always conducive to the 11/2-mile Belmont.
Belmont excuse: Broke slowly and was last in the 11-horse field early on. Couldn't close on the tepid pace and wound up third behind Summing.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Has a more tactical running style than Pleasant Colony so he's not at the mercy of pacesetters.
Issues coming in: Had a staunch rival in Bet Twice and was racing without the anti-bleeder medication Lasix for the first time as its use was still banned in New York.
Belmont excuse: Jockey Chris McCarron concedes he did not give the eventual 1988 Horse of the Year the greatest of rides, having him too far off a soft pace. Bet Twice was running easily up front and drew off for a 14-length romp with Alysheba fourth.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: I'll Have Another won't be allowed to wear the equine nasal strips he has raced with this season in the Belmont Stakes as New York stewards don't allow them. Ironically, the company that manufactures the strips says they help promote healthier lung function, thus alleviating the need for Lasix.
Sunday Silence (1989)
Issues coming in: Had to face rival and future fellow Hall of Famer Easy Goer over that one's home track, where Easy Goer was 3-for-4 lifetime going into the race.
Belmont excuse: The sweeping turns of Belmont indeed proved more favorable to Easy Goer than the nimble Sunday Silence as he sat just off the early pace and defeated the son of Halo by 8 lengths.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Already emulated his fellow California-based predecessor by becoming the first horse since Sunday Silence to win the Kentucky Derby after taking the Santa Anita Derby. Has much the same athletic ability as the 1989 Horse of the Year but doesn't have a foe the quality of Easy Goer in his path.
Silver Charm (1997)
Issues coming in: Had only won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness by head margins, so there wasn't much separating him from chief challengers like Free House and Touch Gold.
Belmont excuse: Since Silver Charm could prevail in almost any dogfight, Touch Gold's jockey, Chris McCarron, put together a crafty plan of rushing past Silver Charm on the outside in the final 50 yards of the Belmont, catching his rival before he could see him coming.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Has virtually the same running style as Silver Charm in that he can relax just off the lead or prompt the issue if need be. Both also have pedigrees that are more blue collar than fashionable, but with plenty of stamina influences.
Real Quiet (1998)
Issues coming in: Despite being a Grade I winner at age 2, Real Quiet had won only four of 14 starts coming into the Belmont leading many to question if his ability was Triple Crown-worthy.
Belmont excuse: Jockey Kent Desormeaux took criticism for moving too soon in the race, opening up a clear lead in the lane but then getting caught by a nose at the wire by Victory Gallop.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Has half the amount of career starts Real Quiet did at this point but appears to have a much stronger turn of foot when it comes time to punch home in the lane. Better-suited pedigree as well.
Issues coming in: Ran for a claiming tag five starts before winning the Kentucky Derby, again leading to questions about how good he really was.
Belmont excuse: Count the late Chris Antley as another jockey singled out for moving too soon, but the real issue came when Charismatic suffered two broken bones in his front left leg during the stretch — injuries that ended his career — and was pulled up just after finishing third.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Though still a bit under the radar coming into the Kentucky Derby, I'll Have Another had far more back class in his form than Charismatic did at this stage.
War Emblem (2002)
Issues coming in: Was one dimensional in his front-running style and ineffective when forced to rate.
Belmont excuse: Worst-case scenario happened when he stumbled and nearly went to his knees at the start, had to rush up between horses to get back into contention and was spent by the time he hit the stretch, coming home eighth.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: While it was break well or bust for War Emblem, I'll Have Another is much more versatile and has been holding his form since February where War Emblem was off the board in his first two starts of 2002.
Funny Cide (2003)
Issues coming in: Despite winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown, many still believed the upstart gelding wasn't as good a horse as his Wood Memorial conqueror Empire Maker.
Belmont excuse: Worked a sizzling 5 furlongs in :574⁄5 days out from the Belmont, leaving trainer Barclay Tagg worried the gelding left his race in the a.m. After leading the field through the mile mark, Funny Cide was overtaken by Empire Maker and faded to third.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Since he's just galloping up to the race, having too quick a work is a moot point. Also appears to have better overall form than Funny Cide, who didn't win a graded stakes until taking the Derby.
Smarty Jones (2004)
Issues coming in: Had stamina questions in his pedigree.
Belmont excuse: Got ganged up on by Rock Hard Ten and Eddington early on, which made Smarty Jones more keen on the front end under jockey Stewart Elliott. Still held a clear advantage in the stretch but tired late and was passed by Birdstone.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Has more stamina influences in his bloodlines than Smarty Jones.
Big Brown (2008)
Issues coming in: Had a quarter crack in his left front hoof flare up in the weeks leading up to the Belmont. Was also reportedly taken off the steroid regimen he had previously been on leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
Belmont excuse: The record shows he was pulled up by jockey Desormeaux approaching the quarter pole after dropping back in the field. Whether his foot, a loose horseshoe or any other conspiracy theories contributed to the end result remains unsubstantiated.
How I'll Have Another stacks up: Doesn't have the physical issues Big Brown was dealing with and also doesn't have connections taunting the racing gods like Big Brown's trainer Rick Dutrow did in saying a Belmont victory was "a foregone conclusion."