ELMONT, N.Y. — The world was primed to see I'll Have Another turn the corner at Belmont Park on Saturday evening with the Triple Crown on the line. But as the other horses in the Belmont Stakes make that run, the colt who captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes will not be with them.
I'll Have Another was scratched from the race and retired Friday, the result of a tendon issue in his left front leg. It's not a life-threatening injury, but it's another significant blow to horse racing.
"I'm afraid history's going to have to wait for another day," owner Paul Reddam said.
Evidence of the injury appeared Thursday, but the horse appeared fine early Friday morning before his workout at 5:30. When the beginnings of tendonitis were still there, the decision was made to take him out of the Belmont.
"This is extremely tough for all of us," trainer Doug 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."
I'll Have Another was a 4-to-5 morning-line favorite to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Billy Turner, who trained 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew admitted being in "disbelief" when he heard the news.
"When you're in a Triple Crown campaign, and believe me I went through it with an undefeated horse and all that kind of stuff, every single day you worry about this because one little thing can go wrong that makes the whole thing fall apart," Turner said. "You're never confident in a situation like this. If you are, you're a fool because things like this do happen."
I'll Have Another is just the third horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and then not run in the Belmont Stakes, joining Burgoo King from 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936. Reddam said the horse is not lame and could have run, but Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian, said he certainly wouldn't have been 100 percent.
"It gets worse. A tendon is a biologic cable, and he has a few fibers that are injured now. If you run on that, then more fibers unravel," Bramlage said. "It would be like unraveling a cable or a rope. It increases the strain, and he's got to go an mile-and-a-half. It's a long distance. He will get tired."
While O'Neill estimated a three-to-six-month recovery time, Bramlage said it was more like a year. Because this stud season is already over, retiring I'll Have Another could make him available for next year.
In the immediate aftermath, there was mostly sadness.
"It's devastating. I really wanted to compete; this was going to be a special race. One of the biggest races of our time. It's just devastating," said Dullahan's trainer, Dale Romans. "It could have been something special."
This Triple Crown trail has been nothing short of special, with I'll Have Another capturing the Kentucky Derby at 15-1 odds and then coming back and beating the favored Bodemeister again at Pimlico in the Preakness. His walk from the security barn back to barn No. 9 at Belmont Park was a sad ending to his trip.
"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," O'Neill said hours after his press conference and one of the hardest decisions of his career. "He's leaving at the top of his game. He looks great. It's subtle. But it's one of those things, if you don't do the right thing, it's going to turn in to be a problem, so we don't want to do that."
Jockey Mario Gutierrez had five mounts Friday and had to move on quickly. Reddam recalled the 25-year-old rider asking if he should go home, but Gutierrez's reaction was more subdued later.
"I'm OK," he said. "I'm happy for the horse because they're taking care of him."
While O'Neill was walking around asking others if they were OK, it was obvious a lot of people were taking the news hard.
"To have this happen is just really, really tough. It's tough on the owners, it's tough on the trainer and it's tough on the public," Turner said. "There are an awful lot of people who were looking forward to, this thing really was going to happen. And then it just didn't."
Rival trainers had nothing positive to say about the news. Even though Dullahan will likely go off as the favorite, trainer Dale Romans felt the pain for horse racing.
"It's not even good for me," he said, "because I am racing."
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