ELMONT, N.Y. — Sullen faces and depressed looks weren’t hard to find around Belmont Park on Friday. News of I’ll Have Another’s injury, the end of a historic run at the Triple Crown and his retirement had even those not associated with him upset.
“It’s just very disappointing, devastating news,” said Dale Romans, who trains new Belmont Stakes favorite Dullahan. “It’s devastating news for everybody.”
But I’ll Have Another trainer Doug O’Neill seemed to be taking the whole thing with the same poise he has shown since winning the Kentucky Derby. Walking around the track, he was giving and receiving hugs and talking about how this wasn’t the end of the world as many sounded like it was.
“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,” he said. “We have had such an amazing run.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for the half-smiles and optimism has to do with the end result. I’ll Have Another did not break down and need to be euthanized, something horse racing has dealt with far too much with the likes of Barbaro, Eight Belles and Ruffian.
“At least the horse is going to be all right,” said Billy Turner, who trained 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. “It’s not a total tragedy, but when you have the Triple Crown on the line and you’ve got your last work in your horse and he’s eating up and all that kind of stuff and you can’t show up, that’s really, really tough.”
I’ll Have Another will lead the post parade for the Belmont, something that on-call vet Dr. Larry Bramlage said was not a problem with the colt’s tendon injury. It’s something of a tribute, but the fact that he’s standing and has a future as a stud are the biggest positives.
“He’s leaving at the top of his game. He looks great,” O’Neill said mid-Friday afternoon. “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.”
Retired jockey Richard Migliore had a similar reaction to O’Neill and Turner, eventually.
“I honestly felt like I was going to cry for a few minutes,” he said. But I started thinking about it. This isn’t a tragedy. This is for the good of the horse.”
Doing the right thing despite the painful decision and the horse’s well-being explains O’Neill’s mood and yet another turn he seems to be handling rather well.
He explained it with a joke.
“It’s alcohol. Come on,” he said. “I’m every bartender’s dream. I’ll Have Another.”