The tortured history of Triple Crown hopefuls continued Friday when I’ll Have Another, bidding to become the 12th horse in history to sweep the American classics, was scratched from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes due to a tendon injury in his left front leg.
Owner J. Paul Reddam said I’ll Have Another will be shipped back to Hollywood Park, his home base, and retired from racing.
“It was unanimous to retire him, and it’s a bummer,” trainer Doug O’Neill said at a news conference Friday.
I’ll Have Another becomes the 12th straight horse since Affirmed in 1978 to fall short of the Triple Crown after winning the first two legs. He’s the first, however, not to at least attempt the Belmont.
“He’s been doing great; it was just a freak thing,” O’Neill said. “I was hoping and praying he’d stay injury-free, and it didn’t happen.”
I’ll Have Another hadn’t looked quite as sharp on the track this week as he was leading up to the Preakness Stakes, but nobody had suspected any physical problems until Thursday. O’Neill said they noticed some “loss of definition” in the leg, but he was hoping it was merely skin irritation.
O’Neill took his colt onto the track at 5:30 a.m. Friday – about two hours earlier than normal – for an easy gallop and “thought he looked great on the track.” But more swelling was noticed in the leg after the horse cooled down, at which point veterinarian Dr. Tim Hunt was called on to administer an ultrasound.
After the tendonitis was confirmed, Reddam and O’Neill decided to pull him from the race.
“We were all a bit shocked, but we have to do what’s best for the horse,” Reddam said. “If he can’t compete at the top level, you know, he’s done enough.”
Both O’Neill and Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for all Triple Crown races, confirmed that I’ll Have Another could have run with this injury without major risk but said it would have affected the horse’s performance, especially running 1½ miles. The primary risk would have been a bowed tendon, which would’ve led to certain retirement.
“Could he run and compete? Yes,” O’Neill said. “But would it be in his best interests? No.”
I’ll Have Another could heal and return to the track next year, Bramlage said, but Reddam decided to go ahead and retire the colt since any attempted comeback would have required him to miss the next breeding season.
Thus ends another ugly Triple Crown season for racing, which was looking for a boost in the wake of a renewed spotlight on racetrack safety and catastrophic breakdowns. Since the Kentucky Derby, much of the focus has been on O’Neill and his history of medication violations in California, which recently earned him a 45-day suspension.
That prompted New York racing authorities to put all horses for the Belmont in a detention barn this week. In the wake of all that ugliness, I’ll Have Another offered an opportunity to give racing a feel-good story. Instead, it’s just another Triple Crown disappointment.