NEW YORK - I'll Have Another's bid for a Triple Crown ended Friday morning with the shocking news that the chestnut colt was out of the Belmont Stakes because of a swollen left front tendon.
According to Dennis O'Neill, brother of trainer Doug O'Neill, the heavy 4-5 betting favorite galloped early and after a veterinary scan, his tendon seemed "kind of tender."
"The horse is sound and happy, but it's not worth it," O'Neill told The Associated Press.
It was the first time since 1936 that the Derby and Preakness winner didn't run in the Belmont. That year, it was Bold Venture and in 1932, Burgoo King skipped the race.
"It's not tragic, but it's a huge disappointment," Doug O'Neill said on "The Dan Patrick Show."
Asked if I'll Have Another has raced his last race, O'Neill said: "If I had to wager, I would say yes."
I'll Have Another came out of a losing effort in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September with shin problems and took the rest of the year off.
He returned to racing in February, and won the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, putting the colt firmly on the Triple Crown trail.
Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam immediately gave I'll Have Another two months off leading up to the Santa Anita Derby, which he won by a nose on April 12.
He followed with victories in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness two weeks later to set up a highly anticipated bid to become racing's first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
But the Belmont Stakes isn't called the "Test of the Champion" for nothing, and its 1 1-2-mile distance has stopped 11 previous horses' attempts at winning the Triple Crown. Given the slightest hint of a problem, the colt's connections withdrew him rather than risk further injury for a shot at making history.
"It's devastating. I thought this was going to be one of the greatest races in history, and I wanted the opportunity to be part of it," said Dale Romans, trainer of second favorite Dullahan. "But this is bigger than that. This is terrible news."
Actually, from the day after I'll Have Another's thrilling win in the Preakness, not much has gone right for Team O'Neill.
On his van ride to New York, the trip was delayed several hours because of traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. A few days later, O'Neill was suspended 45 days and fined $15,000 by the California Horse Racing Board for a medication violation. His suspension is to begin after the Belmont.
Then, racing stewards said that for the Belmont, I'll Have Another could have to go without the nasal strip he wore in races this year, and exercise rider Jonny Garcia had visas problems and had to be replaced for several days.
Perhaps the worst thing before Friday - a near collision with a loose horse on the track last week, prompted racing officials to establish a special window of time for Belmont Stakes horses to be on the track.
Also, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board ordered a detention barn to be set up for all the Belmont horses to beef up security, a decision that angered trainers, who said moving their horses might have an effect on their performance.
"With a horse like I'll Have Another, you're under a really strong microscope," O'Neill said earlier. "It's all just trying to show the public we care for the horses and that when you put your hard-earned money on one of the horses you can know they're all clean and pure and ready to go."
The story of I'll Have Another began at Brookdale Farm, 500 acres of Bluegrass in Versailles, Ky. That's where the stallion Flower Alley was bred to Harvey Clarke's mare Arch's Gal Edith.
Flower Alley won the 2005 Travers Stakes and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic. His father was Distorted Humor, who produced 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. On I'll Have Another's mother's side, there is a long line of horses with speed and stamina, an asset when it comes to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. Not regal bloodlines, but there was potential.
Upon arrival at the 2010 Keeneland November Yearling Sale, Victor Davila - who works for Eiasman Equine training center in Williston, Fla. - gave himself a $10,000 budget, but overspent by $1,000 on the colt. He liked the way the chestnut yearling moved, and after having turned profits on several previous purchases, figured the investment was worth it.
He saddled and broke the horse at his house, and then brought it to the Eiasman's training center.
"I don't think anyone at that time in life recognized he would be vying for a Triple Crown," said Barry Eiasman, who runs the center with his wife, Shari. "His basic skills were good. He was like a good junior high school player. But he also had that one special aspect - a gusto for the sport - and he really was a nice runner."
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