ELMONT, N.Y. — (MCT) There will be no history. Only lingering disappointment.
Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam announced Friday afternoon that Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another is out of Saturday's Belmont Stakes and has been retired because of the discovery of tendinitis in his left front leg.
I'll Have Another was attempting to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Triple Crown.
O'Neill said it was first noticed on Thursday some "loss of definition" in I'll Have Another's left front leg but that the ailment appeared to be minor. After sending out the son of Flower Alley to jog and gallop at 5:30 a.m. Friday morning, O'Neill said the leg showed some swelling and an ultrasound was done. "He has been a little quiet the last few days of galloping, but his legs have been great," O'Neill said. "Yesterday (Thursday) he galloped great, but in the afternoon we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg . . . we prayed he kind of hit himself and that it was a little bit of skin irritation. We did him up in a special poultice, and this morning he looked great. We did just a little easy gallop with him this morning. I thought he looked great on the track.
"Cooling out, you could tell the swelling was back," O'Neill continued. "I talked with Mr. Reddam and immediately we got Dr. (Jim) Hunt over here. He scanned him and he said it was the start of tendinitis in his (superficial) left front tendon and . . . you give him three to six months and then start back with him. But obviously, he's done so much, that it was unanimous to retire him. It's a bummer, but far from tragic. Dennis O'Neill, Doug's brother, said, "We noticed it was a little bit off yesterday and a little bit today. It wasn't worth taking a chance. Just very disappointed. Very bummed out.
In an odd twist, it was announced later Friday afternoon that I'll Have Another would lead the post parade for the Belmont Stakes with jockey Mario Gutierrez aboard.
Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, compared the injury to turning one's ankle.
"The ultrasound exam showed that there were some fibers that were swollen," Bramlage said. "Flexor tendon is a biologic cable and it has fibers and then bundles and then it's organized into a tendon. They had a few of those bundles that had swelling. You won't know exactly how bad it is for a few days.
"Outwardly looking you can't tell anything," he continued. "But they knew what he should look like. And there was a little swelling they checked with the ultrasound, and it was the ultrasound exam that showed the damage."
Dullahan will inherit the role as the morning-line race favorite (at odds of 9-5), but his trainer Dale Romans was far from relishing the new status.
"It's devastating. I really wanted to compete. This was going to be a special race," Romans said. "We're going to inherit the role as favorite, but I'd rather him been in there. I think we could have competed with him and it would have been a great race. And great for the sport. It could have been something special." When asked if the news was good for him but bad for racing, Romans responded, "It's not even good for me because I am racing. It'd be better for me to go out there and beat him. I don't want to win it with an asterisk by our name; I wanted to compete with him."
All of the Belmont Stakes contenders were required to move into one security barn by Wednesday. What role that shift in environment may have played in I'll Have Another's injury will never be known, but Romans expressed dismay over the fact the racing world now has to ponder it at all.
"This detention barn is bad. I don't know if it played a role or not, but we're always going to wonder," he said. "We'll always wonder. Whoever came up with this idea should resign."
Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, Doug O'Neill had sought the advice of trainer Billy Turner _ who campaigned 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew _ in the weeks leading up to the Belmont. On Friday afternoon, the only thing Turner had left to offer was sympathy.
"When you're in a Triple Crown campaign _ and believe me I went through it with an undefeated horse and all that kind of stuff _ every single day you worry about this because one little thing can go wrong that makes the whole thing fall apart," Turner said. "You're never confident in a situation like this. If you are, you're a fool because things like this do happen.
"At least the horse is gonna be all right. It's not a total tragedy, but when you have the Triple Crown on the line and you've got your last work in your horse and he's eating up and all that kind of stuff and you can't show up, that's really, really tough." ___