Keeping Score

I’ll Have Another Goes for Triple Crown: How to Keep a Horse Happy

For the twelfth time since Affirmed took the Triple Crown, in 1978, a horse has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Now comes the toughest challenge.

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Patrick Smith / Reuters

Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another is held by foreman Benjamin Perez as the horse gets a bath at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, May 9, 2012.

Horse racing is going to give it another go.

For the twelfth time since Affirmed took the Triple Crown, in 1978, a horse has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. I’ll Have Another, the colt based in Southern California, thrilled die-hard and casual racing fans alike by catching Bodemeister down the final stretch of both races. Now comes the toughest challenge: completing the triple, at the 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes, on June 9. Eleven horses since Affirmed entered Belmont with the Triple Crown chance. All 11 have failed. The last one, Big Brown in 2008, finished last.

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I’ll Have Another has already arrived at Belmont Park’s stalls. So how do you keep a horse healthy, conditioned, and primed to go for the three weeks before the race? Some trainers and equine veterinarians do chiropractic work on their horses, or offer massages. But Jeff Blea, an racetrack equine veterinarian who saw I’ll Have Another Run win the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, does not recommend these tactics. “The more you leave a horse alone, the better off you are,” Blea says. To him, the mental part of the racing game is key. “Keep the horse happy,” Blea says. “If you keep horses happy, they will do well.”

Over the last two weeks, I’ll Have Another has already been through two grueling races. Blea says that, like any athlete, a horse might take vitamin supplements to help him recover (unfortunately, too many thoroughbreds have taken performance-enhancing drugs, which has stained the sport. In California, I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, has been accused of “milkshaking,” the illegal practice of giving a horse a mix of of bicarbonate of soda, sugar and electrolytes. This cocktail combats fatigue. O’Neill has denied the milkshaking accusations). To stretch I’ll Have Another’s limbs, Blea recommends that the colt takes regular walks. He should have access to hay, on pretty much a 24-7 basis. “That’s good for the digestive system,” says Blea. “What’s good for the digestive system, is good for the mind.”

Vets can tell when horses are happy. “His coat will have little more luster to it,” says Blea.
“And you can just see it in the animal’s eyes.” Blea is predicting that come race day, I’ll Have Another will have plenty of luster. “I do,” says Blea, when asked if he thinks the colt is going to make history, and end the 34-year Triple Crown drought. “It seems like the horse is just getting stronger, and has the maturity and wherewithall to do it.”

Step one: just keep I’ll Have Another smiling.

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