I’ll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes and retired from racing a day before he was to try to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, his trainer and owner said.
The horse, which won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the first two races in the Triple Crown, had swelling in his left front leg yesterday, trainer Doug O’Neill said. After looking “perfect” this morning, the swelling returned during a training session and a scan showed “the start of some tendinitis,” the trainer said.
“We were all a bit shocked, but we have to do what’s best for the horse,” J. Paul Reddam, the colt’s owner, said at a news conference at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. “And if he can’t compete at the top level, he’s done enough.”
The end of I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown bid might cost Reddam more than $5 million in the horse’s value, according to Baden P. “Buzz” Chace, a bloodstock agent who buys and sells horses for clients.
O’Neill said the sudden turn of events on the track was “far from tragic, but it is very disappointing.”
“Obviously, he’s done so much that it was unanimous between the Reddams, my brother and I, and everyone in the barn to retire him,” the trainer said at the news conference.
The rapid switch from a shot at the sport’s top prize to the end of I’ll Have Another’s career underscores how difficult horse racing sponsorship can be, said Bob Dorfman of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.
“The fact that the horse has been scratched from the Belmont -- the vagaries of the sport -- is yet another reason why there are minimal endorsement opportunities for thoroughbreds and their handlers,” Dorfman said.
I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. He was installed this week as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in tomorrow’s Belmont, trying to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978. Dullahan is now the 9-5 favorite, followed by Union Rags at 3-1.
Dullahan, the third-place runner in the Derby last month, had 5-1 odds before I’ll Have Another was scratched. Union Rags originally had 6-1 odds.
Jockey Mario Gutierrez will be aboard I’ll Have Another tomorrow to lead the post parade for the $1 million race.
It’s the 12th time since Affirmed swept the series that a horse had entered the Belmont after winning the first two legs. The most recent was in 2008, when Big Brown was pulled up in the race by jockey Kent Desormeaux and finished last.
The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and not start in the Belmont was Bold Venture in 1936. The horse was pulled because he bowed a tendon during training at Belmont Park.
The track had expected a crowd of 120,000 for tomorrow’s card. The New York Racing Association had settled a contract dispute with union workers this week who had threatened to strike and jeopardize the running of the 1 1/2-mile race.
“Hopefully they’ll still have a full house,” O’Neill said in an earlier interview on Dan Patrick’s radio show, where he broke the news of the Belmont scratch. “I hope I’ll Have Another’s defection doesn’t shrink that too much. I’m sure the NYRA people probably want to slap me around a little, but I’ve just got to do what’s in the best interest of the horse.”
Without I’ll Have Another, the race figures to draw fewer viewers on NBC, which said it is “working now to adjust the game plan accordingly.”
“The Belmont Stakes is still an iconic event on the sports schedule, and the NBC Sports Group broadcasts will treat it as such,” the Comcast Corp. network said in an e-mailed statement.
NYRA Chairman C. Steven Duncker issued a statement expressing his disappointment for everyone who wanted to see I’ll Have Another run.
Belmont Stakes Day’s 13 races will be run as scheduled, therefore all tickets are non-refundable, the NYRA said.
All advance wagers on the Belmont Stakes involving I’ll Have Another can by canceled at any mutuel window, the NYRA said. Once the race is declared official tomorrow, most tickets that were not canceled in advance will become refundable.
Advance wagers on the Pick 6 and Pick 4 using I’ll Have Another must be canceled in advance to avoid the automatic assignment of the post-time favorite in place of I’ll Have Another in the race, the NYRA said.
“It’s very disappointing news obviously, but the connections of I’ll Have Another are to be commended for placing their horse’s best interests first and foremost,” Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said in a statement. “The health and safety of the thoroughbred must always be the paramount consideration regardless of any other circumstances.”
Sports books in Nevada said the news would drastically cut betting interest in the Belmont.
“It’ll be like booking the fifth race at Finger Lakes,” Jimmy Vaccaro, the director of sports operations at Lucky’s Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “It’s truly sad. What we miss now is the people who wouldn’t be horse bettors coming out to try to watch history.”
O’Neill is facing a 45-day suspension starting no sooner than July 1 for a California racing violation. He was sanctioned after excessive levels of total carbon dioxide were found in a sample from Argenta, a filly who finished eighth in the sixth race at Del Mar Racetrack on Aug. 25, 2010. Under California rules, the trainer is accountable for ensuring a horse’s condition.
O’Neill twice has been found guilty of administering a banned combination of substances that is called a milkshake at a California racetrack, the New York Times said last month. The newspaper also said its analysis found O’Neill-trained horses break down or show signs of injury at more than twice the rate of the national average.
The 3-year-old chestnut colt may have turned $35,000 into $10 million for his owners with even more money spread around the industry had he won tomorrow’s race, Chace, the bloodstock agent, said before I’ll Have Another was retired. The valuation is closer to the lower end of $3 million to $5 million now, Chace said today.
“It was better he did not run if he wasn’t 100 percent,” Chace said in a telephone interview. “If he had lost the Belmont, it would have hurt him more had he gone to stud.”
Doug Cauthen, owner of Doug Cauthen Thoroughbred Management LLC, said “he’s probably now a $4 to $6 million horse.”
The injury was “absolutely not” life threatening if I’ll Have Another had run tomorrow, according to Larry Bramlage, a veterinarian who works with the Triple Crown races and had discussed the situation with Jim Hunt, the colt’s vet. He said he hadn’t examined the horse himself.
“They don’t break down with this injury and lose their ability to support weight,” Bramlage said in an interview at Belmont Park. “The tendon just gets more inflamed.”
The time required to recover from the injury made retirement a sensible choice, Bramlage said.
“It takes a while for this injury to heal, it takes almost a year,” he said. “So if he’s going to come back and race, it’s going to be a year. Now you have 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.”
Bought by Reddam as a 2-year-old, I’ll Have another will still be able to command as much as $40,000 in stud fees, Chace said.
With breeding season over, Reddam said he hasn’t begun to make plans for I’ll Have Another’s post-racing life.
“It’s not an emergency to talk about where he’s going to stand or what he’s going to stand for,” the owner said.
Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, starting with Sir Barton in 1919. The others are the father and son duo of Gallant Fox and Omaha in 1930 and 1935, War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.