- Last Updated: 7:02 AM, June 9, 2012
- Posted: 1:56 AM, June 9, 2012
The air went out of the balloon with one big plop yesterday when I’ll Have Another was scratched from today’s 144th Belmont Stakes. He becomes the 12th horse since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978 to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness without completing the sweep in the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.”
Most years when a horse isn’t going for the Triple Crown, the Belmont is billed as a “good betting race,” with a full field of evenly matched runners. Even if I’ll Have Another had run, it still would have been a good betting race if you liked another horse to beat him.
But with I’ll Have Another, the 4-5 favorite on the morning line, retired with tendinitis in his left foreleg, the odds on the other bettable horses in the Belmont dropped through the floor.
Forget about 5-1 on Dullahan; now he’s the 9-5 favorite. Union Rags went from 6-1 to 3-1, and he probably will be lower at post time. Paynter, once 8-1, is 7-2.
Dullahan’s trainer, Dale Romans — who didn’t think his horse could lose even with I’ll Have Another in the Belmont — was told the scratch was “bad for racing, but good for you.”
“It’s not good for me,” Romans responded. “It would be better for me if I went out and beat him. I don’t want to win it with an asterisk by [Dullahan’s] name.”
The crowd at Belmont Park — which would have numbered 100,000 or more with a Triple Crown on the line — still will get to see I’ll Have Another. He will walk around the paddock before the race.
I’ll Have Another was to lead the post parade but later in the evening, owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and New York stewards decided it was not in the best interests of the horse.
The whispers began early yesterday morning, when I’ll Have Another — who had been galloping regularly at 8:30 a.m. — went out for a jog at 5:45 a.m.
“We thought we would take him out when it’s quieter,” O’Neill said at the time. “The detention barn setup has been hectic. We want to get him in the quietest frame of mind leading up to the biggest race of his life.”
But things spiraled downhill quickly, and a 1 p.m. press conference was called to announce the bad news, while also leading out I’ll Have Another before the media to show he was not lame.
“This is extremely tough for all of us,” O’Neill said. “He has been quiet the last few days, but his legs have been great. [Thursday] afternoon we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg, which we prayed was just a bit of skin irritation. We did him up in a poultice.
“This morning, he looked great, and we did a little easy gallop with him. Then cooling out, the swelling was back.”
Veterinarian Dr. Jim Hunt diagnosed the problem as the start of tendinitis in his left front leg. The injury is not life-threatening, but even if it healed properly, it would take a year before I’ll Have Another could race again.
“Obviously he’s done so much that it was unanimous to retire him,” said O’Neill.
“If the horse is hurt, he can’t run,” jockey Mario Gutierrez said. “You can’t have him get hurt more.”
“I’m afraid history is going to have to wait for another day,” Reddam said.
This is the first time since Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936) that the Derby-Preakness winner did not run in the Belmont. But aside from Big Brown, who was eased in the 2008 Belmont, no other Triple Crown hopeful seemed to endure the slings and arrows that I’ll Have Another did leading up to the race.
Last week, a loose horse came within inches of crashing into him during a morning gallop. New York rules were to prevent him from wearing the equine nasal strips to help breathing that he wore in the Derby and Preakness.
With the other Belmont runners, he was forced by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to move into the new detention barn, instituted because of the negative publicity surrounding O’Neill — who, five days after the Preakness, was suspended by the California Horse Racing Board for elevated TCO2 (total carbon dioxide) levels found in one of his horses.
Yesterday, the SRWB released this statement: “Dr. George Maylin, Director of the Racing and Wagering Board’s Drug Testing and Research Program, has completed initial testing of samples taken from Belmont Stakes entries on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. All results of this testing were negative.”