ELMONT, N.Y. — Trainer Graham Motion has been there before, making the impossibly tough choice not to run a horse dealing with an injury. It was "devastating" for him to hear of I'll Have Another being scratched from the Belmont Stakes with a tendon injury that robbed fans of a Triple Crown bid.
After learning that news, Motion turned to his 15-year-old daughter, Jane, and said, "Imagine if we were in that situation."
"It's such a pressure-cooker situation when you make decisions like that about a horse's well-being," he said. "But the pressure that goes on when everyone's expecting you to show up, I just can't even imagine having to make a decision like that."
Given the tendinitis in I'll Have Another's left front leg, owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill made the decision to not just dash history but send the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner into retirement. It was done with an eye toward his next career as a stud.
"This becomes the practicality thing. It takes a while for this injury to heal, it takes almost a year. If he's going to come back and race, it's going to be a year," on-call veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage said. "Now you've got to give up next year's breeding season on the chance that he might make it back to the races and do really well for the year after that."
Buoyed by an undefeated 3-year-old season, I'll Have Another earned $2,963,600, but there's a lot more money in breeding. Big Brown, who pulled off the same Derby-Preakness double in 2008, went to stud with a starting fee of $65,000 per mare, a price that has since dropped.
And while I'll Have Another accomplished plenty and became an international star along the Triple Crown trail, his less-than-stellar pedigree will reduce his value. It's even possible Bodemeister, who finished second to I'll Have Another twice in the past two months, is worth more in breeding.
But the attraction of having the offspring of a horse who could have won the Triple Crown made it an easy decision. O'Neill said the conversation Friday about the horses future was short.
"Mr. Reddam loves watching his horses compete ... [And] we bounced all kinds of things around," O'Neill said. "The thought of missing breeding all year and all next year just didn't make sense."
It was a unanimous decision not to run him and to end his racing career. Reddam said Saturday before I'll Have Another's emotional retirement ceremony he was not aware of stud plans yet.
"We're just going to breathe and see what happens," Reddam said.
I'll Have Another will get his breather back home at Hollywood Park after a flight home with an ending his connections did not anticipate or hope for.
Jockey Mario Gutierrez, who had been a regular at Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, will go back to California, too. But thanks to this journey he's a household name.
"The horse hasn't [brought] anything but happiness in my life," Gutierrez said. "I'm going to keep working hard. I don't want anybody to give me anything that I don't deserve. ... Those kind of horses are once in a lifetime."
This charmed trip might be once-in-a-lifetime and the ending tough to swallow. But along with sadness, there's a general feeling that they did right by the horse in not running him in the Belmont.
"He's leaving at the top of his game. He looks great," O'Neill said. "It's a roller coaster. What a ride. He's given us so much pleasure. I'm just so pumped that he's ending his career on top, sound."
Walking around Belmont Park on Saturday, O'Neill knew this journey was at its end. He removed I'll Have Another's saddle in the winner's circle one final time and patted his horse on the back.
But he's determined not to make this his and Reddam's only Triple Crown joy.
"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."
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