I'll Have Another scratched from Belmont Stakes

With I'll Have Another walking in the background, trainer Doug O'Neill fields questions about the colt. ASSOCIATED PRESS
With I'll Have Another walking in the background, trainer Doug O'Neill fields questions about the colt. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: June 08, 2012

Horse racing is the ultimate "what if" sport.

What if I'll Have Another did not have an inflamed tendon? What if the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner had run in Saturday's Belmont Stakes? Would he have been the 12th Triple Crown winner?

We will never know.

What we do know is that on Friday, it was announced that he would be scratched and retired.

I'll Have Another will be on the track at Belmont Park early Saturday evening, but horse and rider Mario Gutierrez will be leading the post parade, instead of being in it.

"I'm afraid history is going to have to wait for another day," owner Paul Reddam said Friday.

Trainer Doug O'Neill said he first felt some swelling in the colt's left front foreleg Thursday afternoon. The swelling was not there Friday morning, so the horse went to the track at 5:30 a.m. for a brief gallop. The trainer hoped the swelling would not recur, but it did, and a scan of the affected area was ordered.

"He has been quiet the last few days of galloping, but his legs have been great," O'Neill said. On Thursday, "he galloped great, but in the afternoon we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg to which, like every other owner and trainer, we prayed he just kind of hit himself and it was just a little bit of skin irritation. We did him up in a special poultice."

Then, on Friday morning, said O'Neill, "he looked great, so I thanked the racing gods. And we did just a little easy gallop with him today. I thought he looked great on the track. And then cooling out, you could tell that swelling was back, and at that point I didn't feel very good.''

According to O'Neill, the scan showed that there was “the start of tendonitis in his left front tendon."

Fractures can be repaired. Tendons really can't. And this is the type of injury that could get worse with racing.

Rest is the only answer. Often, even that isn't enough. So the decision was made to retire the horse.

Could he run and compete in the Belmont?

"Yes," said O'Neill. "But would it be in his best interests? No."

The sound you heard Friday afternoon was the air going out of the horse-racing balloon. NBC was going to get a giant rating for its Belmont broadcast. There likely would have been 100,000 people at the track. Not anymore.

And it will be a 35-year Triple Crown gap heading into the 2013 Derby.

"This is extremely tough for all of us," O'Neill said. "Though it's far from tragic, no one died or anything like that, but it's extremely disappointing and I feel so sorry for the whole team. We have had such an amazing run, you know, for me, taking three buses to go to Santa Anita at age 10 to be here and try to make history."

They will still run the Belmont Stakes Saturday afternoon, but it won't be the same.

Dullahan, third in the Derby, is now the 9-5 morning-line favorite. Union Rags, the horse with all the Pennsylvania connections, is the 3-1 second choice.

Union Rags is the only horse in the race with a graded stakes win on dirt. And he has three so it would be no shock if he goes favored.

I'll Have Another will finish his career with a perfect 2012 and more than $2.6 million in earnings. He will be off to stud next year. When the economy tanked in 2008, the bloodstock market imploded. As a result, I'll Have Another likely will be valued between $5 million and $10 million, not the $25 million he might have been 5 years ago.

"It has just been an incredible ride, an incredible run,'' O'Neill said. “And I've taken so many notes, a lot of mental notes and I know we are going to be back here again."

Actually, he doesn't know. This Triple Crown deal is so hard to win because the modern stakes horse never races three times in 5 weeks — except during horse racing's marquee series. Just getting to the Derby is difficult. Winning it is a lifetime dream. Winning the Derby and the Preakness is clearly, at least, possible. The modern Triple Crown, however, apparently is the impossible dream.

— Dick Jerardi

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