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Vegas experts weigh in on I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown chances

Horse listed at 75-to-1 to win the Triple Crown before Kentucky Derby

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Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another is lead around his stable just after arriving at Belmont Park in New York, Sunday, May 20, 2012. I’ll Have Another came out of his thrilling Preakness victory over Bodemeister in “super shape,” trainer Doug O’Neill said Sunday, and now it’s on to New York for a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

Updated Friday, June 8, 2012 | 11:48 a.m.

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Patrons of the MGM Grand sports book, including Paul Apted, background, react while watching the Kentucky Derby Saturday, May 5, 2012.

Editor's note: This story was reported and written before Friday morning, when I'll Have Another pulled out of Saturday's Belmont Stakes. Click here for updated odds and how the injury affects local race and sports books.

Las Vegas race and sports books are likely printing more tickets on I’ll Have Another to win Saturday’s Belmont Stakes than they’ll ever have to pay out.

Even if I’ll Have Another becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years Saturday in New York, one prominent local sports book director says some bettors will never collect their winnings.

“If he wins the race, there are going to be tickets that don’t get cashed so people can hold onto them and have a winning ticket from the Triple Crown,” Red Rock Race and Sports Director Jason McCormick said. “It’s something they can look back on for years and pass down to their kids.”

That’s how monumental Saturday’s race stacks up in the horse racing community. Odds indicate that I’ll Have Another has a fantastic shot to buck recent history and become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in less than two months.

The morning line at Belmont Park opened I’ll Have Another at 4-to-5 to win the race. Lucky’s race and sports books posted a prop immediately after the Preakness asking gamblers if I’ll Have Another would win the Belmont.

The current prices show the “yes” at +120 (risking $1 to win $1.20) with the “no” coming back at -150. In other words, oddsmakers give I’ll Have Another a 45 percent chance of prevailing against the 12-horse field.

“I think he’s got a great shot,” said Lucky’s horse racing expert Dan Shapiro. “But strange things do tend to happen at the Belmont. We’ve seen a lot of crazy things over the past couple of years.”

I’ll Have Another is the fifth horse since 2002 to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He’s also the 12th since 1978.

But he’s one of the most improbable to ever make it this far. Colts like Big Brown in 2008 and Smart Jones in 2004 were far more heralded than I’ll Have Another.

Lucky’s posted I’ll Have Another at 75-to-1 odds to win the Triple Crown before the Kentucky Derby. It’s safe to assume the bettors with those tickets won’t be among the contingent holding onto them for a keepsake.

Red Rock, and the rest of the Station Casinos properties, offered a 6-to-1 price on any horse winning the Triple Crown before the Kentucky Derby. Once I’ll Have Another won, the odds actually increased to 8-to-1 because of his status as a relative long shot.

“For everyone in the horse racing industry, it’s about time for this to happen,” McCormick said. “This horse would definitely deserve it. He’s won two fantastic races in the Derby and the Preakness, and hopefully we’ll see it again Saturday.”

Having the Belmont hold this much significance is a major luxury for local books. McCormick predicted Saturday’s racing handle would come close to last month’s Kentucky Derby. Without the Triple Crown possibility, it would barely eclipse an average Saturday.

Station Casinos race and sports books are adjusting accordingly. McCormick said they would give away I’ll Have Another T-shirts with any wager of $40 or more. Some of Red Rock’s biggest horse bettors are also getting treated to a VIP brunch before the race.

Similar promotions are available all around town.

“It’s going to be a really big day business-wise for us,” Shapiro said. “When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, it becomes a huge day for the books. I think I’ll Have Another being a California horse has brought even more interest this year.”

The race itself presents a number of unique challenges for I’ll Have Another. The track’s length is a mile and a half, longer than any other course he’s ever run.

It features what Shapiro calls “sweeping turns” that are difficult for jockeys to figure out. The horses expected to push I’ll Have Another the most, Union Rags and Dullahan, have enjoyed more than a month off since the Kentucky Derby by skipping the Preakness.

“There’s a reason it hasn’t been done in 34 years,” McCormick said. “But you have to cheer for this to happen. I was born in ’75, so I don’t remember Affirmed winning it. This is something I want to remember, something I want to see in my lifetime.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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