What Happened to the Belmont Stakes?
I’ll Have Another was looking to become the first Triple Crown Winner since Affirmed won the title in 1978. The Triple Crown title is something like nothing else in sports…winning three races, against the game’s toughest, at three completely different tracks in just five weeks and I’ll Have Another was up to the challenge. However, in a completely unexpected turn of events, I’ll Have Another was scratched from the 144th Belmont Stakes on Friday Afternoon as tendonitis in his front left leg caused the muscle to swell.
I’ll Have Another’s journey from an unknown horse to a potential Triple Crown winner was an exciting and unlikely one. The horse was bought for only $35,000, which is a bargain as he has claimed over $2.5 million in winnings from his races. I’ll Have Another jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is a quiet and reserved young man from a small town in Mexico, who rode the horse with perfection in all the races leading up to the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Doug O’Neill is a funny, happy-go-lucky guy who loves the horse and doesn’t take himself too seriously. This unusual group was on the cusp of greatness.
Then, in just a few minutes, the atmosphere around the Belmont Stakes turned from exciting optimism to a disappointing letdown. The huge drop-off from Triple Crown hopeful to retirement is something we’ve never seen before. If there is one thing we can take from this entire week, it is that the trainers in this sport, contrary to popular beliefs, truly care about the horses they train.
I’ll Have Another trainer Doug O’Neill did what is best for the horse. He forfeited his own fame and fortune for the health and comfort of I’ll Have Another. Multiple sources, including O’Neill himself, claim that the horse could have participated in Saturday’s race. Doug O’Neill, with a Triple Crown Title under his belt, would have been a guaranteed legend. Now, he may be remembered as just a “good” trainer. He should be remembered as an honorable trainer that did what is best for the horse, no matter the personal losses he suffered. O’Neill concerned himself with the long-term well being of the horse, and not the most immediate accolades and awards.
Dullahan trainer Dale Romans also displayed great moral character during this week. New rules that were implemented by the Racing and Wagering Board have forced Belmont Stakes participants to all live in the same barn. This has caused major inconveniences and close quarters for the horses. Belmont Stakes horses must leave their comfortable individual barns to enter the crowded detention barn. This barn was created to monitor horse and trainer activity, to assure fair and legal methods of training are being practiced. Romans has displayed his anger with the system, saying it’s bad for the horse, and he is right. It is bad for the mentality of the horse to leave a comfort zone to go to a crowded barn.
Although it is sad that I’ll Have Another will never run again, it would have been worse if the horse sustained a life threatening injury. Now, as a retired horse, he can be used for breeding and he can live a healthy and long post-race life. After this entire ordeal, the public can finally see that the trainers act in the best interest of the horse.
Before this injury, excitement grew and grew as I’ll Have Another prepared to race for a Triple Crown Title. Horse Racing received attention like never before. Now, even though there will be 50,000 less people at Belmont Park on Saturday, and television ratings will be down, attention should still be shifted towards the nobility of Doug O’Neill and what he did to potentially save I’ll Have Another.