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I’ll Have Another Could Face Strong Belmont Field

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(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

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NEW YORK (AP) — I’ll Have Another will face several familiar foes in his attempt to win the Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown champion in 34 years.

Among the 3-year-olds trying to play spoiler in the June 9 Belmont are Dullahan and Union Rags, the third- and seventh-place finishers in the Derby who both skipped the Preakness.

I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill mentioned Union Rags and Dullahan as tough rivals, saying “they have fresh legs and are ready to go.”

So is his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, who arrived at Belmont Park on Sunday after a five-plus hour ride in a horse van from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

“We’re ready to go, too,” he said outside his barn at Pimlico before leaving for California. “Our horse came out of this race in great shape and as long as he stays injury free we’ve got a big, big chance.”

Others Belmont probables are Rousing Sermon, eighth in the Derby; Optimizer, 11th in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness; Peter Pan winner Mark Valeski; and Paynter, trained by Bob Baffert. Among others set for their first Triple Crown race are Antigun, Five Sixteen, Guyana Star Dweej, Street Life and Unstoppable U.

Bodemeister, who finished second in the Derby and Preakness, isn’t running in the Belmont. O’Neill is not sad.

“Anytime you can dodge an amazing horse like that, it’s a good thing,” O’Neill said.

Union Rags won the Champagne at Belmont as a 2-year-old, and was the 5-1 second favorite in the Derby.

Blue Grass Stakes winner Dullahan closed with a rush and finished less than two lengths behind I’ll Have Another at Churchill Downs. Trainer Dale Romans elected to pass on the Preakness and train his colt for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

If Optimizer runs, it will be trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ 22nd Belmont horse. The Hall of Fame trainer has won the race four times, most recently with Commendable in 2000.

Mark Valeski finished second in the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, but skipped the Derby and Preakness. He came back and won the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 12.

Paynter finished fourth behind I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby, and won an allowance race on the Preakness undercard.

Alpha, the Withers winner who finished 12th in the Derby, is a possible. He worked four furlongs in 49.17 seconds Saturday at Belmont, and assistant trainer Art Magnuson said “We’re not deciding anything yet, we’re just going to watch things and let the horse tell us.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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