Trainer Doug O’Neill and the rest of the I’ll Have Another crew watched Saturday’s Belmont Stakes on television in the barn office of trainer Mark Hennig.
Less than an hour before the race, I’ll Have Another was given a ceremonial retirement in the paddock at Belmont Park, a day after the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was scratched from the race with tendonitis in his left foreleg.
“It was a strange feeling,” assistant trainer Jack Sisterson told NYRA press on Sunday. “We finished parading him in the paddock and were coming back, and you see everybody else getting ready to go [to the track]. When we were coming back, [the horse] knew that, ‘Hey, this is not right. I want to go race.’
“The guys took it really well. To get this far … going into it, if somebody said you could win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but not run in the Belmont, I think everybody would have taken that. It’s been such a great journey. To work for somebody like Doug, who gave us all the opportunity like this, is the chance of a lifetime. It really was fantastic.”
I’ll Have Another was bidding to become the first horse in 34 years to sweep the Triple Crown. Instead, he was the first horse since 1936 to claim the first two legs and be unable to compete in the third.
“He looked impressive this morning, as always. He’s never once looked bad,” Sisterson said. “It’s a bit of a bummer, especially the way the race shaped up. His running style would have fit the race to a ‘T.’ All the credit to Union Rags and Paynter, they ran a big race. The rest of them were just kind of going up and down, and this guy would have tried to take advantage of that. Mario [Gutierrez] is a great jock, and he would have judged the pace and would have been right there, ready to press the button turning for home. That’s horse racing. You’ve got to turn the page and keep moving forward.”
I’ll Have Another is scheduled to leave New York at 8 a.m. Monday and head back to O’Neill’s California base.
“We’re packing up and shipping out,” Sisterson said. “Hopefully, we’ll be back.”
I’ll Have Another/NYRA photo