For the past 33 years, something bad always happened to Triple Crown contenders in the Belmont Stakes, but this was a first. Never had one of them been retired the day before the race.
Horse racing's most elusive trophy will not be on the line Saturday at Belmont Park.
I'll Have Another's trainer, Doug O'Neill, announced shortly after 1 p.m. Friday that "developing tendinitis" in the horse's left front leg will keep him out of the 144th Belmont Stakes and also end his racing career.
I'll Have Another, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was attempting to become only the 12th horse to win racing's elusive Triple Crown. It has been 34 years since Affirmed was able to sweep the classic series for 3-year-olds. I'll Have Another became the 12th horse since Affirmed's triumph in 1978 to win the first two legs but not the crown.
"I really thought he was going to run off tomorrow and show something," owner J. Paul Reddam said. "We were all a bit shocked, but we have to do what's best for the horse."
Instead of seeking immortality, I'll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez will lead the Belmont Stakes post parade.
"He'll be my hero forever," Gutierrez said. "What I'll Have Another did for me is so amazing. He brought happiness to my life."
O'Neill said he, Reddam and his older brother, assistant trainer Dennis O'Neill, decided not to race the colt again. "He's done so much that it was unanimous to retire him," Doug O'Neill said. "This is extremely tough for all of us. It's not tragic, but it's disappointing."
Reddam, who paid $35,000 for I'll Have Another as a 2-year-old, said there are no plans yet for the colt's breeding career. The horse won five of seven career starts and earned almost $2.7 million. He is expected to be flown to California on Sunday or Monday.
Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the Belmont Stakes, called the injury "superficial digital flexor tendinitis," saying it would take at least six months to recover sufficiently to exercise. "There is nothing you can do to prevent it."
I'll Have Another is the third Derby-Preakness winner to miss the Belmont. Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936) also won the series' first two legs but missed the finale. Bold Venture injured a tendon 12 days before the race, and Burgoo King never was entered, according to Keeneland Association librarian Cathy Schenck.
The withdrawal leaves a field of 11, and track oddsmaker Eric Donovan made Dullahan the 9-5 favorite. I'll Have Another was installed as the 4-5 morning-line choice at Wednesday's post position draw.
I'll Have Another went for his daily gallop at 5:30 a.m. Friday, three hours earlier than usual, to avoid workout traffic later, Doug O'Neill said. "If he didn't look 100 percent this morning," he said, "I wouldn't have taken him to the track. He trained great, but afterward I saw swelling come up."
The colt could have joined Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed in the thoroughbred pantheon.
The scratch was the latest major hit for the New York Racing Association. A series of fatal horse breakdowns marred Aqueduct's winter meeting. A scandal in which money was allegedly withheld from winning wagers led to the firings April 30 of NYRA executives Charles Hayward and Patrick Kehoe. Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the state would take over NYRA for the next three years.
Although reserved seats are sold out, many who wanted to see history will likely stay home. It was anticipated that Saturday's crowd would exceed 100,000 and perhaps challenge the 2004 record of 120,139.