I'll have another: Let us crank up our imaginations

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By Bob Watkins

What American loveth a story-line more ardently than one in which this athlete or that one is labeled: “your chances are two ... slim and none.”
I’ll Have Another is at Belmont Park this week and predictors and poets are holding forth with forecasts and verse calling up, for background, ghostly silhouettes of Affirmed and Citation and the Triple Crown Club.
Does this I’ll Have Another belong? With an eye on the weather forecast, we will see.
Consider a broader scene: Close your eyes, pull your imagination up to the Triple Crown table and think a scene from the movie Seabiscuit ... beaten down Red Pollard (Tobey McGuire) is riding Seabiscuit through a stunning Kentucky countryside in autumn. The color and clime we Kentuckians know well.
Right off the pages of Laura Hillenbrand’s gorgeous novel: Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2003) the story came alive through Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper and a few good horses.
Now comes another people’s choice whose chances may be slim and none.
This week, the big chestnut stands at a barn door at Belmont Park, N.Y., on the threshold of a place in horse racing history where only a special few have gone before. Two months ago, this horse was nobody to the experts, being ridden by a nobody kid on board.
Amusing then, the take-your-breath-away high drama swirling today. By Saturday, television would beg for a sugary essay from Haywood Hale-Broun or Jack Whitaker if they were still around. Meanwhile, the hoss that cost J. Paul Reddam $11,000 at a Keeneland sale, frolics unencumbered by a single silly question about pressure or the company his name could keep.
If this were baseball, say, Ryan Sandberg at Cooperstown, he would be all a tremble, even speechless about his name going onto a roster with Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Fresh, isn’t it, that I’ll Have Another doesn’t know a Sir Barton or a Whirlaway from a door knob?
I’ll Have Another stands at Belmont to eat, walk and wallow with no inkling of betting odds, tote board nor distinguished club to which his name could be affixed by Sunday. And never mind the best part – the breeding barn and his stud life future. I’ll Have Another indeed.
What a delight then, an athlete with no ego, no trash talk, no reason to be cool, no pressure and no clue about 34 years and 11 fails, since a Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, 1978.
We are in on something here. A pause late Saturday to peak in at least to see if the spirits of Secretariat, Citation, Seattle Slew and the others have a new classmate.
Finally, to set another scene, close your Kentucky eyes once more and pull your imagination up to the table. There was this horse that had raced 17 times and lost them all and was mad as hell about something most of the time. Another oddly-named nag that didn’t work and was headed to oblivion and a glue bottle.
Hold on. Crank up your imagination a notch. The Biscuit was put under a fellow who was mostly angry all the time, too. They would make magic together.
On a cold November day at Pimlico Race Course near Baltimore, the stars aligned and improbable stood opposite one flicker of magic spread over two minutes. It all ignited. Little man Seabiscuit finally had a chance, a race against the finest horse of his day, War Admiral, Triple Crown champion. Owner of the latter chortled to all who would listen that this little pony Seabiscuit had no business in such elite company as his Admiral. Everyone laughed as words made to be eaten were on the record.
In the next two minutes that day in 1938, the Biscuit and War Admiral ran a race we have seen only once since, Affirmed and Alydar, 1978. Head to head virtually start to finish. Into the last turn, then in a final drive Seabiscuit’s big heart held out while the Admiral faded to four back. The People’s Choice Biscuit cruisedaway leaving the Admiral behind at the finish.
The unlikely winner that day was an $8,000 purchase, I’ll Have Another cost his owner $11,000.
However unlikely, maybe Triple Crown time has come again.
I’ll Have Another.

Worth repeating
National columnist Norman Chad wrote about I’ll Have Another this week.
“Everyone — even the Taliban — wants a Triple Crown winner. It last happened 34 years ago, and it once happened with regularity: In the 1970s, there was a Triple Crown winner three times in a six-year span.
“But this Saturday in New York, I’ll Have Another will turn into I’ll Have Another Disappointment. I can’t tell you the exact place I’ll Have Another will finish, I just know it won’t be first.
“(As the bearer of bad news, I respectfully ask my readers not to kill the messenger.)
“There are three things that are next-to-impossible to do in this modern life:
“1. Beat the banks at their own game.
“2. Get a cable or satellite provider to show up in the designated time window they’ve given you.
“3. Win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes over a five-week period.
“In other words — in layman’s terms — I have a better chance of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on roller skates than I’ll Have Another does of winning the Belmont.”
And so it goes.