I'll Have Another's bid for racing history ended with a whimper Friday when connections revealed that the Triple Crown hopeful was not only scratched from the Belmont Stakes due to a tendon injury, but retired from racing altogether.
Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam described the turn of events at a 1 p.m. (EDT) press conference, with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner grazing contentedly in the background.
"He has been showing a little bit of -- you know, he has been quiet the last few days of galloping, but his legs have been great," O'Neill said. "Yesterday he galloped great, but in the afternoon we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg to which, like every other owner and trainer we prayed he just kind of hit himself and it was just a little bit of skin irritation, we did him up in a special poultice.
"This morning he looked great; so I thank the racing gods there. And we did just a little easy gallop with him today. I thought he looked great on the track.
"And then cooling out, you could tell that swelling was back and at that point I didn't feel very good," O'Neill continued. "I talked to Mr. Reddam, and you know, immediately we got Dr. (Jim) Hunt over here and he asked and answered him and he said it was the start of tendonitis in his left front tendon; and you know, you give him three to six months and start back with him.
"But obviously he's done so much that it was unanimous between the Reddams and my brother and I and everyone at the barn to retire him. And it is a bummer, but again, far from tragic, but it is very disappointing."
"I just want to thank Doug and his entire team for the great care they have given this horse," Reddam said. "It was a hell of a run and I know they are all personally very disappointed, of course, that he didn't get to show his stuff for tomorrow, because we tried to be quiet.
"But I really thought he was going to run off tomorrow and really show something. So we were all a bit shocked, but we have to do what's best for the horse and if he can't compete at the top level, you know, he's done enough, and Doug, thank you."
I'll Have Another had been installed as the 4-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's 144th running of the Belmont, where he would have tried to become America's 12th Triple Crown winner.
Instead of ending a 34-year Triple Crown drought, and joining the exclusive club last entered by Affirmed in 1978, I'll Have Another added his name to a more wistful list. Only two other Derby and Preakness winners were unable to run in the third and final leg of racing's Triple Crown -- Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936.
"Yeah, this is extremely tough for all of us," O'Neill said. "Though it's far from tragic -- no one died or anything like that -- but it's extremely disappointing and I feel so sorry for the whole team. We have had such an amazing run, you know, for me, taking three buses to go to Santa Anita at age 10 to be here and try to make history.
"Got to thank Paul and Zillah for making this possible. I've got to thank the team, too. A lot of them are back at the mansion (rented by Reddam on their behalf), going to let them enjoy; I think they aren't enjoying the pool and tennis court today.
"But Jonny who gets on him every day is just a great kid and Betto (ph) who came out here just in case we needed a backup, Inocencio who worked his butt off every day. Benjamin, who is grazing him right now. Savas, Leandro, and I know I'm missing guys, Thumper, Rio, Tyler Cerin, Marcos.
"But it has just been an incredible ride, an incredible run. And I've taken so many notes, a lot of mental notes and I know we are going to be back here again. I know some people have asked if I thought the detention barn had anything to do with that. And absolutely not. Just a freakish thing."
O'Neill clarified the difference between I'll Have Another's injury -- "tendonitis in the left front, superficial tendon" -- and a bowed tendon.
"Well, a bowed tendon, you get a big old profile and it's an advanced tendon," the trainer explained. "So it's -- you actually have a large lesion in the core of the tendon. This is the beginning of a tendon.
"Could he run and compete? Yes. But would it be in his best interests? No. And so yeah, we are not -- he would never get a bowed tendon."
O'Neill was asked if he'd had any concerns about bringing I'll Have Another out early Friday morning for a leisurely gallop.
"Well, if he didn't look 100 percent this morning, I wouldn't have," the trainer said. "But you know, after yesterday afternoon, the intent was to take him out real early when it was quiet. And one of the negatives to this detention barn is that 8:30 everyone is heading out and you've got, you know, 10 to 12 horses all trying to go to the track, all trying to be on the wash rack. It gets congested. I wanted a real quiet time with him.
"He looked great this morning. He trained great. But when I saw the swelling come up after the training, then, you know, without, oh, yeah, go ahead, Paul.
"It should just be clear that yesterday afternoon before any of this came up," Reddam emphasized, "the decision was made that he was going to have an easy morning and come out early and stress-free and just jog around the track for Saturday.
"So it wasn't like he had an injury and Doug took him out for a test drive this morning. That was not the case. He had a little heat; it was gone. He was good this morning, probably because he was treated before the race on Thursday. It was just after that, Doug called and we just discussed, OK, we have this problem, should we look at it?
"I said, well, if you look at it, and the vet comes over, he'll have a lot of attention, but what the heck, that's what's best for the horse so that's what he did. Just to be precautionary, he said we'll scan the tendon and it's a good thing he did scan it, because that's when he found the problem.
"So the horse is not lame," Reddam added. "He could have run tomorrow. You wouldn't have known a difference had he not looked at it. So Doug, through extreme caution about the horse, had the vet come over and scan him."
Stud plans remain to be determined for the son of Flower Alley.
"Stud season is over this year," Reddam observed, "and the horse I assume is going back to Hollywood Park, being in friendly surroundings and, I guess we would be open to talking about that at some point here.
"But it's not an emergency to talk about where he's going to stand or what he would stand for or this and that. We are just going to -- look, the races are going to go on today. The big race is tomorrow. Going to be there as a fan now, won't tell you who we are betting on. We'll take a few days to just let this play out."
"I think he was scheduled to go back (to Hollywood) Sunday or Monday," O'Neill said, "so that will be the same plan."
O'Neill dismissed the idea that the grind of the Triple Crown was a factor in the colt's injury.
"I'd say no -- he's been doing great," O'Neill said. "Just a freakish thing. I think when you have a human or an equine athlete, when you give 110 percent every time you step on the court or the track, you're suspect to injury. I've been hoping and praying he would stay injury-free, and you know, it didn't happen.
"But again, like Paul said, it's still going to be a great race tomorrow, and you know, we'll be there and rooting and hopefully a good, safe run. Hopefully whoever we pick wins."
Reddam commented on how jockey Mario Gutierrez took the news.
"Well, I called Mario this morning, just after I talked to Doug, and he was -- I think he was sort of stunned, because he really didn't say much at first, and I wasn't sure that he really understood what I was talking about," Reddam said.
"Then when I explained: No, no, I'll Have Another, he's got to be retired, his immediate reaction was, 'Well, should I just go home today?'
"'No, you've got to ride,'" Reddam told him.
"So he was -- he was sad for the horse, really. He has just had a tremendous bonding with I'll Have Another, as everybody saw him on the track, and his concern was 100 percent for the welfare of the horse and he expressed in the end no disappointment for him not getting a chance to run the Belmont.
"He's just glad that the horse is OK and, you know, his safety, along with the other riders' safety is paramount. So that's why the decision was made."
But Gutierrez will end up climbing aboard I'll Have Another on Belmont Day after all.
NYRA later announced that I'll Have Another and Gutierrez will lead the Belmont Stakes post parade.
Dr. Larry Bramlage, orthopedic surgeon and on-call veterinarian for the Belmont Stakes, found no fault with that decision.
"I'll Have Another's ability to lead the post parade for tomorrow's Belmont Stakes is an illustration of the character of his injury," Bramlage said. "It is absolutely of no concern for sub-maximal exercise, but would be a concern at a mile-and-a-half at full speed. Therefore, I have no concern for his appearance on the racetrack at the head of the Belmont field."
"Our hearts go out to the connections of I'll Have Another," NYRA Chairman C. Steven Duncker said. "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."
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, issued a statement on I'll Have Another.
"It's very disappointing news obviously, but the connections of I'll Have Another are to be commended for placing their horse's best interests first and foremost," Waldrop said. "The health and safety of the Thoroughbred must always be the paramount consideration regardless of any other circumstances."
On the revised morning line for the Belmont, Dullahan was installed as the new 9-5 favorite. Last seen finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, the multiple Grade 1 hero had initially been pegged as the 5-1 second choice.
Union Rags now takes over the second spot at 3-1. Paynter is the 7-2 third choice, and Street Life ranks fourth at 8-1. Optimizer, My Adonis and Atigun are each 15-1, Unstoppable U is 20-1, and the 30-1 shots are Ravelo's Boy, Five Sixteen and Guyana Star Dweej.