There will be no Triple Crown for the first time since 1978. I'll Have Another won't even get the opportunity to run.
Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam decided to pull the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner from Saturday's Belmont Stakes after a scan showed the beginnings of tendinitis in I'll Have Another's left front leg.
This is extremely tough for all of us, though it's far from tragic," O'Neill said at a press conference from Belmont Friday afternoon. "It's extremely disappointing. I feel so sorry for the whole team. We've had such an amazing run. For me, taking three buses to Santa Anita at age 10 [when beginning his training career] to get here and make this happen."
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The horse had been taking it easy leading up to the 1 1/2 mile race, but O'Neill said that was the plan all along. They noticed a small problem with the leg Thursday afternoon, but hoped it was just discoloration. O'Neill said the horse looked fine when he took him out early Friday morning, but after the run, the injury flared up again.
"Just a freakish thing," O'Neill said. "He's been a little quiet the last few days at galloping. In the afternoon [Thursday], we noticed a little bit of loss in definition. I thought he looked great cooling out. [But] you could tell the swelling was back immediately [after Friday's morning session]. We got [Belmont veterinarian] Dr. [James] Hunt over here. He said it was the start of tendinitis in the front left tendon.
"If he didn't look 100 percent this morning, I wouldn't have [taken him out]. He looked great this morning; he trained great," O'Neill said."
The decision was made in the best interest of the horse's health. I'll Have Another could be worth millions in stud fees, which is why they decided to retire the horse before the injury got worse. Reddam said they would look at that once the situation had calmed down, though.
"Stud season is over for this year, so the horse will go back to Hollywood Park, be in friendly surrounding and I guess we would be open to talking about that at some point," Reddam said. "We'll take a few days to let this play out."
"Could he run and compete? Yes," O'Neill said. "Would it be in his best interest? No."
I'll Have Another's jockey, 25-year-old Mario Gutierrez, was speechless when Reddam called him Friday morning.
"I called Mario just after I talked to Doug and he was sort of stunned," Reddam said. "He didn't really say much. I wasn't sure he understood what I was saying. His immediate reaction was, 'Should i go home now?' He had a tremendous bonding with I'll Have Another. His concern was 100 percent with the horse. His safety, along with the other riders' safety, was paramount."
No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Seattle Slew won it the year before in 1977 as well. The last horse to attempt the feat was Big Brown in 2008. I'll Have Another won't even get that.
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.