JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight, a bitter blow for the sport of horse racing and for many fans who’d been pulling for a one-time underdog.
Ray Suarez is back with that story.
RAY SUAREZ: There will be no Triple Crown winner this year.
J. PAUL REDDAM, owner, I’ll Have Another: This is officially to tell you that I’ll Have Another is retired.
RAY SUAREZ: The heavily favored horse I’ll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes today. After the colt’s morning workout, trainer Paul O’Neill said the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner had developed a strained tendon on his left front leg, and will now be retired from racing.
DOUG O’NEILL, trainer, I’ll Have Another: It is extremely disappointing, and I feel so sorry for the whole team. We have had such an amazing run.
RAY SUAREZ: I’ll Have Another’s career will end in the barn, instead on the racetrack.
J. Paul Reddam is the horse’s owner.
J. PAUL REDDAM: 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.
RAY SUAREZ: Thirty-four years have passed since the last Triple Crown winner, when Affirmed took home the prize in 1978.
And I’m joined by Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form at Belmont Park.
Jay, has it ever happened that a Triple Crown favorite has been scratched so close to post time?
JAY PRIVMAN, Daily Racing Form: No, it’s unprecedented that you would have a horse going for the Triple Crown scratched on the eve of the race.
There were two horses in the 1930s who had won the Derby and Preakness who ended up not being able to compete in the Belmont. But, no, this would — this set of circumstances would certainly be unprecedented.
RAY SUAREZ: His trainer said he was galloping great. His owner said he could have run. What were the risks involved in just letting I’ll Have Another go tomorrow and fixing his ailment after the race was done?
JAY PRIVMAN: Well, the ailment might have been a lot more serious and probably would have been if they had run in the race.
Right now, it is a very minor thing that would preclude a horse of his caliber from racing again. There’s just too much of a risk. But it’s minor. Had they run in the race, it certainly could have turned into something very major. And I think they are to be commended for making the smart decision, the decision that’s in the best interest of the animal, and not risking him in a situation like this, even it is obviously extremely tempting to run the horse like this.
But you can’t do it, and they made the right call.
RAY SUAREZ: There is a lot of interest riding on the race. There was a lot of money riding on the race for a wide range of stakeholders, broadcasters, advertisers, betting parlors. How does the news like this ripple through the business side of the Belmont Stakes?
JAY PRIVMAN: Well, certainly, the crowd tomorrow will — I would doubt would be as strong as it would have been had I’ll Have Another been competing.
Maybe the betting handle on the race won’t be quite as strong. But it’s the interest in the race that is going to take the biggest beating. And how you can quantify that in dollars and cents is something that I’m not really able to come up with. But it’s obviously a major blow from that standpoint. And it’s just a major blow from a sporting standpoint that none of us are going to be able see whether he could have pulled it off.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about the horse. Can a horse let you know when it’s not feeling 100 percent, or is there sort of an art to knowing when it’s better to keep him in his paddock?
JAY PRIVMAN: Well, that’s one of the things that top-class trainers are able to perceive. And, really, that’s what happened here with trainer Doug O’Neill.
He noticed something that just wasn’t quite normal yesterday afternoon with the horse’s left front leg. They did some treatment on it. They thought it looked better at the end of the day yesterday. So — and it was fine this morning when they took him out for his daily routine gallop.
But when I’ll Have Another came back from that gallop, the difference in that left front leg that they had noticed yesterday had returned. And at that point, they knew they had a problem on their hands, a more serious problem than they had first had hoped it would be.
RAY SUAREZ: Even after the tendinitis that felled I’ll Have Another runs its course, the horse is still worth a lot of money to the owner, isn’t it?
JAY PRIVMAN: Very much so.
He will go to stud next year. The breeding season is always in the spring, because the gestation period for a horse is 11 months. So you’re sort of at the end of the cycle right now. So he will go to stud next year.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a new favorite for tomorrow’s Belmont, now that I’ll Have Another is out?
JAY PRIVMAN: It’s kind of like being on Broadway, isn’t it? The show must go on.
The favorite of the race now will be Dullahan. This is a horse who finished third in the Kentucky Derby and sat out the Preakness in order to be at his best for the Belmont Stakes. And the second choice will probably be a horse named Union Rags, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and had a lot of traffic trouble in that race. So, they will be the top two choices now, in the absence of I’ll Have Another.
RAY SUAREZ: Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form joined us from Belmont.
Thanks for being with us.
JAY PRIVMAN: My pleasure, Ray.