NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s suddenly a lot less at stake at this year’s Belmont Stakes.
I’ll Have Another will not race Saturday due to a swollen left front tendon, as the elusive Triple Crown will have to wait at least one more season.
Trainer Doug O’Neill delivered the shocking news during a radio interview Friday and later the horse’s retirement was announced at a press conference called by the New York Racing Association.
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“It’s been an incredible ride, an incredible run,” O’Neill said. “It’s a bummer. It’s not tragic, but it’s a huge disappointment.”
100,000 spectators were expected at Belmont Saturday hoping to witness history. And merchants, municipalities and the racing industry hoped to cash in. “It’s a huge blow. I couldn’t put a figure on it but it’s a bad blow in terms of gate and in terms of sales — all that kind of thing,” Wall Street Journal Sports Editor Geoff Foster told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
The colt was attempting to become the sport’s first winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978, but will instead join the long list of could-have-beens.
Sweeping the Kentucky Derby the Preakness and the Belmont has only happened 11 times and not since 1978. There have been 11 near misses and now a 12th disappointment, Gusoff reported.
The Belmont Stakes will still be run, minus the thrill of a Triple Crown on the line. But even those disappointed agree the decision was best for the horse, and insures his profitable future as a stud.
Darren Rogers with Churchill Downs brought the Triple Crown trophy to Belmont. “It’s currently in the basement of Belmont, unfortunately. One of these years we can hand it over to someone,” Rogers told Gusoff.
The injury will end I’ll Have Another’s racing career, O’Neill said. His team unanimously decided to retire the heavily favored 3-year-old, despite a possible treatment time of “three to six months.”
“This is extremely tough for all of us,” said O’Neill. “I feel so sorry for the whole team.”
“Our hearts go out to the connections of I’ll Have Another,” said NYRA Chairman C. Steven Duncker. “We are disappointed for them, the fans, and for the sport of thoroughbred racing, but the most important concern is always the health and well being of the horses. Although there will not be a Triple Crown coronation, we are still looking forward to what will be a terrific day of racing at Belmont Park.”
Dennis O’Neill, Doug’s brother, told the Associated Press that I’ll Have Another’s leg was “kind of tender.” He admitted the colt was “sound and happy” but said running the Belmont would not have been worth the risk.
Doug O’Neill sent I’ll Have Another out for an early 5:30 a.m. gallop Friday, and afterward declared the horse “fit and ready to go.”
“It’s been very hectic the last few days, so we thought we would take him out when it’s quieter,” the trainer said in a statement released by NYRA.
Rumors about the colt’s health started to swirl after his secretive appearance on the track. The field for the 144th Belmont Stakes, now whittled down to 11, will include Paynter, Dullahan and Street Life.
“It’s devastating. I thought this was going to be one of the greatest races in history, and I wanted the opportunity to be part of it,” said Dullahan trainer Dale Romans. “But this is bigger than that. This is terrible news.”
Watch I’ll Have Another gallop Friday morning:
Nobody saw this coming. Will you still watch the race Saturday? Sound off below…