Written by Rich Forestano: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 15 June 2012 00:00
I have covered the Belmont Stakes three years running now and each one was more exciting than the next. Drosselmeyer won in 2010, long shot Ruler on Ice took the third leg of the Triple Crown last year and Union Rags, after a bad trip in the Kentucky Derby, sat out the Preakness and won by a neck in the “Test of the Champion” on June 9.
But sadly, there was something missing: a chance at greatness.
With the scandals that surrounded the New York Racing Association (NYRA) and the formation of New York State’s reorganization board on NYRA in the last few months, the sport needed a spark…but its trick knee gave out.
When I’ll Have Another was scratched because of a leg injury and a chance at becoming the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to take all three jewels of horse racing’s biggest prize, the cloud that has hovered over NYRA became just a bit thicker.
When the colt took the Kentucky Derby, the attention he and relatively new jockey Mario Gutierrez attained was noteworthy but minimal at best. It wasn’t until he came up the outside of the pack on the first Saturday of May in Baltimore at the last second to take the second jewel, that the racing world began to buzz.
The Preakness victory preceded NYRA being taken over by the state and after a betting scandal that saw two high-ranking racing officials fired, including President and CEO Charlie Hayward. This also followed the smack down of a 45-day suspension of the history-making hopeful’s trainer Doug O’Neill and his involvement with allegedly doping one of his horses.
O’Neill will serve the suspension in July. However, he could appeal.
On the days leading up to the final race, the 107-year-old park was brimming with excitement, with fans, the media, owners and trainers geared up for the possibility of witnessing or spoiling history. The buzz ended before the horses even reached the starting gate.
“He’s had an incredible run,” said O’Neill, who announced the decision to scratch and retire the colt on Friday, June 8 after a mild tendon issue was detected in his left front leg. “Could we have run him [in the Belmont]? Yes. But would that have been the right move? No. I was proud of the whole team. It was unanimous in not running him. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse. We’re just focused on all the great parts of this journey he took us through.”
As I’ll Have Another posed for pictures in the winner’s circle before the $1 million purse last week, the hopes and dreams of a new king of horse racing in 2012 went out with each camera flash. The 3-year-old colt hobbled down the path just south of the finish line, fading into the distance.
Following the photo-op, a fellow reporter said to me, “Maybe one of his kids will take the crown one day?” My answer: “I would name his kid Another Chance.”