The Triple Crown curse lives. This time the horse didnt even make it to the starting gate.
Ill Have Anothers bid for the first Triple Crown in 34 years stunningly ended Friday when the chestnut colt was retired on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with an injury to his left front tendon.
Im afraid history is going to have to wait for another day, said J. Paul Reddam, the colts owner.
Ill Have Another, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes with stirring stretch drives, was the 4-5 early favorite to win the Belmont and become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
Instead, hell make one final trip to the racetrack with his jockey Mario Gutierrez to lead the other Belmont horses during todays post parade no longer a prelude to greatness, but merely a wistful farewell.
Hell be my hero forever, a somber Gutierrez said. What Ill Have Another did for me is so amazing. He brought happiness to my life.
Always the longest and toughest of the Triple Crown events, the 1½-mile Belmont instantly was reduced to being just another big race.
The favorites role fell to Dullahan, who ran third in the Derby and had been second in the morning line for the Belmont. He was made the 9-5 early choice.
Trainer Doug ONeill said Ill Have Another was being retired because he developed swelling in his left front tendon that was the beginning of tendinitis.
This is extremely tough for all of us. Its far from tragic, but its extremely disappointing, he said.
ONeills brother, Dennis, said it was hard to tell anything was wrong just by looking at the horse.
He looks great. Hes sound. He went great (Friday) morning. He looks super, (but) you just cant take a chance, he said. Hes too valuable of a horse, and we love him to death like all of them. You wouldnt run a horse if you think something might happen.
The scratch comes a day before an estimated 100,000 fans were expected to converge on the track in hopes of seeing, at long last, a Triple Crown winner a champion who would help resurrect a struggling racing industry.
Ill Have Another joined 11 other horses since Affirmed who won the Derby and the Preakness but were unable to complete a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont, extending the longest gap between Triple winners to 35 years. The colt also became the third winner of the first two legs who was unable to run in the finale; Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936 were the others.
Its like completely letting the air out of a balloon, said Ken McPeek, who trains Belmont contenders Atigun and Unstoppable U.
Dale Romans, who trains Dullahan, said: This was going to be a special race, one of the biggest races of our time. Id rather have him in there. It would have been something special to beat him.
ONeill said he first noticed something might be wrong with the colt Thursday, hours after his usual morning gallop.
We prayed he kind of hit himself and that it was a little bit of skin irritation, he told a horde of media gathered outside the detention barn at Belmont Park.
ONeill called an audible Friday and took his horse out to gallop at 5:30 a.m., three hours earlier than he had been working out in the days leading up to the race. He wanted to avoid the congestion created by all the Belmont horses going to the track at the same time.
I thought he looked great on the track, and then cooling out, you could tell that swelling was back, and at that point I didnt feel very good, he said
A veterinarian confirmed the diagnosis and suggested ONeill give the colt three to six months off, but ONeill said he and his brother, along with Reddam and his wife, were unanimous in deciding to retire the colt who had won four consecutive Grade 1 races, starting with the Santa Anita Derby in April.
I really thought he was going to run off (today) and really show something, Reddam said. So we were all a bit shocked, but we have to do whats best for the horse.