Horse racing can be heartbreaking. It’s not fair, I know.
Horse racing moves grown men to tears of joy. It makes those same men hang their heads in sadness after gut-wrenching defeats. Friday’s developments surrounding I’ll Have Another proved an exercise in the latter for Doug O’Neill, J. Paul Reddam, Mario Gutierrez and all of those connected to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner.
This NYRA photo of O’Neill following Friday’s press conference is what dashed dreams look like in this game. It can lift you off the ground. It can punch you in the face.
Today was supposed to be a coronation of a champion. I’ll Have Another, a horse for the ages, was going to bring out more than 100,000 racing fans to Belmont Park to witness history. People from all over the globe traveled to watch in person the historic attempt at the record books. The race will go on. The star of the show will remain in the barn.
Not since Florida-bred Affirmed swept the Triple Crown in 1978 has a horse proved up to the herculean challenge. Much to the disappointment of Team O’Neill and I’ll Have Another’s far-reaching fan base, Affirmed’s legacy is safe for another year.
With the realization yesterday that I’ll Have Another’s left front leg was not 100 percent, O’Neill and Reddam made the right decision. No matter the weight of expectations on the horse, the weight of an industry, some have said, O’Neill and Reddam simply could not risk further injury to a horse that has been the face of an industry since the first Saturday in May. In other sports, “playing hurt” is a badge of honor. At this level in horse racing, it’s not an option.
“This is extremely tough for all of us,” O’Neill said. “It’s far from tragic but it’s extremely disappointing. He’s done so much, that it was unanimous to retire him. It’s a bummer, but far from tragic.”
Horse racing can be glorious. It was for I’ll Have Another and his team in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. It’s been quite a ride for all involved. For a short time, it was the ride of a lifetime.
All is not perfect in the Sport of Kings, but I’ll Have Another’s courageous and dramatic triumphs in the first two legs of the Triple Crown will not be forgotten. He exhibited class, grit and a winning spirit. He gained respect from his competitors—both equine and human.
Hope springs eternal in horse racing. Today, a new star will emerge. The Triple Crown and history, however, will have to wait.
Doug O’Neill/NYRA photo