I'll Have Another has overtaken the leader in the last two races. Gutierrez says the horse -- who ran down Bodemeister in the stretch of the Derby and Preakness -- makes the task easier for him.
"Turning for home, he loves that," the jockey said. "He has the biggest heart, and he makes me confident."
That faith -- in himself and his horse -- will be essential for success at Belmont Park.
Hall of Fame jockey and NBC analyst Gary Stevens was run down in the stretch in 1997 trying to take Silver Charm to the Triple Crown. The next year on Victory Gallop, he nailed Real Quiet at the wire to deny him the Triple Crown.
"It is almost like being brainwashed," Stevens said of all the opinions flying around between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. "You just cannot let other people into your head."
Cauthen listened only to the voices who had his confidence -- the owners and trainer Laz Barrera. He applauds Gutierrez for the same focus.
"He says the only two people (he's) listening to are Doug O'Neill and Mr. Reddam," he said. "That's the only people he needs to listen to."
Doubting greatness, then and now
This is where I'll Have Another and Affirmed are joined again: While both have a legion of fans, there is and was some doubt about both. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Wednesday that he would consider switching jockeys to go with a veteran rider at this track if it were his horse.
Stevens says I'll Have Another has "all the ingredients" but warns Union Rags "is going to make it a hell of a race, and so is Dullahan. They're both fresh horses."
Affirmed was a camp-splitter himself.
Ed Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and Dale Austin, a former president of the National Turf Writers Association, had both watched the 3-year-old hold off Alydar in the Derby and Preakness. They had opposing views on the Belmont.
"I kind of thought Alydar would do it," Bowen said.
Austin, who thought Alydar was the superior horse before the 3-year-old spring races, jumped to Affirmed after the Preakness. "By the time the Belmont came along, I recognized that Affirmed must be the better one," Austin said. "He was better than Alydar, and Alydar was a super-duper horse."
The victory made Affirmed a Hall of Famer and in a class so small that it takes minutes to call roll. In the past three decades, many experts have felt that only the very best deserved entry and openly rooted against horses they felt were inferior to the current 11 Triple Crown winners.
So which class does I'll Have Another belong in?
Bowen says only one thing can make I'll Have Another look like Affirmed: winning the Belmont.
"He doesn't look like a Triple Crown horse to me yet, but then none of them did until it actually happened," Bowen said.
Cauthen, who will watch the race on TV from Kentucky, has been there and is ready to welcome a new member to the club.
"When you've been involved with a Triple Crown, I mean the last thing you would do is root against anybody else doing it, succeeding at it, because it's just such a difficult thing to do," Cauthen said.
Tonight, I'll Have Another is expected to be segregated in the security barn, denied even his best friend and lead pony Lava Man on a decision by O'Neill, as the tension rises.
For now, I'll Have Another is a colt with similarities to Affirmed. But he's so close to being compared to him directly. The chase is on.
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