Belmont scratch seen as bettor opportunity

Bettors and horse-racing enthusiasts expressed disappointment, concern and a hint of greed Friday as word of I'll Have Another's tendon injury -- scratching the chestnut colt from the Belmont Stakes and a chance at the Triple Crown -- spread at the off-track betting branch in East Farmingdale.

Dennis Balz of Lindenhurst was among those who realized that the favorite's withdrawal from the Belmont likely would mean better odds for his betting choice, Union Rags.

Balz said he smiled when he heard about the injury, admittedly concerned more about how it might benefit his betting strategy than ending I'll Have Another's one chance at making racing history.

"That just shows how grueling this three-race is," Balz said, referring to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. His plan is to place an assortment of $2 bets on his favorite pick, Union Rags.

Still, the missed chance for I'll Have Another did not escape him.

"I would have liked to have seen the big race because I wanted I'll Have Another to lose fairly," he said.

I'll Have Another was bidding to become thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 -- until his trainer, Doug O'Neill, announced Friday the colt would not run because of a tendon injury to the left foreleg.

At the Race Palace in Plainview, Paul Hunchak, 47, of Syosset, said he was not surprised I'll Have Another won't be running.

"Horses are like athletes, and they can go down," Hunchak said, citing as examples players who got hurt during the NBA playoffs.

Hunchak sighed, adding, "Another year we have to wait" for a Triple Crown winner.

Officials from Nassau County and the state racing association said this week the increased interest in the race because of a possible Triple Crown winner would generate an estimated $9 million to the economy.

The racetrack was preparing for a crowd of nearly 120,000 to attend Saturday's race, with sales of everything -- from 16,600 pounds of hamburger to 19,000 hot dogs to 72,000 cans of beer -- expected to surge.

"While we won't be having 'Another,' we will all be having a great Belmont Stakes Day," County Executive Edward Mangano said after learning of the injury.

John Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, called the decision to scratch I'll Have Another disappointing but noted O'Neill and the colt's owner, J. Paul Reddam, put the welfare of the horse first by withdrawing.

"Despite the fact that a Triple Crown winner will not be named this year, we look forward to an exciting and safe Belmont Stakes," Sabini said in a prepared statement.

But many bettors, like Balz, were thinking about how to take advantage of the situation.

"The favorite hardly wins," said Mike Henry at the East Farmingdale OTB branch. "This helps my guy for tomorrow." Henry's pick also is Union Rags, who has impressed with fast workouts this week.

John Salvi, 32, of Bayport, said at the OTB branch he originally was rooting for I'll Have Another so he could see the first Triple Crown winner in his lifetime.

"I was initially upset," he said, "but I'm more worried about the welfare of the horse."

But his worry was short-lived as he decided that his betting favorites would include three horses -- Paynter, Dullahan and Street Life.

"I'll probably do a . . . trifecta box," Salvi said, a wager that specifies three or more named horses to cross the finish line in the first, second and third positions, in any order.

With Yancey Roy and Sid Cassese

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