Famous last words: When trainer Kelly Breen took his colt, My Adonis, onto the Belmont Park track for a sunrise workout Friday, he caught a glimpse of heavy favorite I'll Have Another's training session.
"He looked pretty good," Breen said. The most anticipated Belmont in four years appeared to be on.
All week, I'll Have Another trainer Doug O'Neill marveled amid the Triple Crown hubbub that his horse, "instead of getting nervous and anxious, is getting excited and pumped up . . . thriving in the attention and the excitement."
So when the fairy-tale zeitgeist of I'll Have Another's magical spring vanished midmorning with the news that a tendon injury had ended his career, the entire racing community felt as if it had been bucked from its saddle.
"When I called Mario [Gutierrez, I'll Have Another's jockey] this morning, just after I talked to Doug," I'll Have Another owner J. Paul Reddam said, "I think he was sort of stunned, because he really didn't say much at first. I wasn't sure that he really understood what I was talking about," since English is not the native Mexican's first language.
Gutierrez first asked if he "should just go home today," a sentiment likely to be reflected in the size of Saturday's Belmont Day crowd. Though as many as 120,000 were expected for I'll Have Another's attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history, that number could be cut in half. And many of the 72,000 preprinted programs -- with I'll Have Another on the cover -- likely will go unsold.
Gutierrez promised, after riding in Friday's final race, that he will watch the Belmont Stakes go on without him. "Of course, of course," he said. "I'm going to be cheering for my fellow riders, and all the horses. I'm going to wish everybody luck."
But he acknowledged his "disappointment. I'm a little bit sad. These kinds of horses come once in a lifetime. But I think we've done what's right for the horse, and he hasn't done anything but give me all this happiness and all this success. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."
In I'll Have Another's absence, trainer Dale Romans' Dullahan assumed the favorite's role, but "it's not even good for me," he said, "because I am racing. It would have been better for me to go out there and beat him. I don't want to win it with an asterisk by my name; I wanted to compete with him."
The startling turn of events "is horse racing; we understand things like that happen," said Doodnauth Shivmangal, owner-trainer of Belmont Stakes long shot Guyana Star Dweej. "But it's not good. I don't like it. It's not pleasant for me. The competition will be one less horse I have to worry about, but in my heart, deep down, it's not something that I want to happen."
When he got the news that I'll Have Another had been scratched, Richard Migliore, who retired after 30 years as a jockey in 2010, said he "thought I was going to cry . . . But, you know what? This isn't a tragedy. I mean, we're all disappointed, because we'd love to see a Triple Crown. But it's not the end of the world. It happens. They're horses. [Late trainer] Charlie Whittingham said it best: 'They're like strawberries. They can go bad overnight.' "