ELMONT, N.Y. — I’ll Have Another’s slow walk from the Belmont Stakes security barn to his old home in barn No. 9 was surreal. He looked ready to run for the Triple Crown, his hair was done up in style and he was the center of attention as has been the case since his victory in the Kentucky Derby.
But I’ll Have Another was not fit to go, his run at history derailed by a tendon injury that crept up Thursday and then again Friday. Officially the injury is tendonitis of his superficial digital flexor tendon, according to on-call veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage.
Although it’s hard to tell that I’ll Have Another is hurt, it’s a serious injury that knocked him out of the Belmont Stakes and pushed him into retirement.
“When a horse has a tendon issue, its’ a very difficult thing to come back,” said trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal, who has Guyana Star Dweej in the Belmont. “Tendons are very serious issues with a racehorse because every time they stretch that tendon, it gets worse and worse.”
Owner Paul Reddam conceded that I’ll Have Another could have run had trainer Doug O’Neill not practiced “extreme caution” in examining him. What O’Neill and Dr. Jim Hunt saw was a little lack of definition in his tendon.
“The ultrasound exam showed that there were some fibers that were swollen,” Bramlage said. Flexor tendon is a biologic cable and it has fibers and then bundles and then it’s organized into a tendon. They had a few of those bundles that had swelling.”
Bramlage explained it like an Achilles tendon injury in humans, though not as serious. But had he run in the Belmont, Bramlage explained that he wouldn’t have been competing at 100 percent and the injury could have gotten worse.
“It’s an early injury that if you went on and had he raced in the Belmont, the danger would have been a bowed tendon, meaning a significant number of fibers injured,” he said.
It’s not a debilitating injury that would prevented him from going out to stud next year and beyond, and it’s certainly not life threatening. Had he run Saturday evening, it could have ended poorly but not like Barbaro (shattered hind leg) or Eight Belles (two broken front ankles), two previous stories with more tragic immediate consequences.
“They don’t break down with this injury and lose their ability to support weight. The tendon just gets more inflamed,” Bramlage said. “It’s not an injury that you worry about the horse having a catastrophic result from it. There’s no bone fracture. There’s nothing of that kind.”
And really nothing that can be done to prevent it.
“As far as an injury for a horse, this is one of the known exercise-induced problems that’s an occupational hazard,” Bramlage said. “It’s something that all trainers watch for for in horses. It’s a low percentage, but it’s not something that’s not recognized in race horses. It’s one of the things that you watch for.”