I’ll Have Another's chance at horse-racing immortality ended when the winner of the Preakness and Kentucky Derby was scratched from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes after developing tendonitis in his left front leg.
The announcement that the superstar thoroughbred would not even make a run for the first Triple Crown in 34 years stunned the horse racing world and took the suspense out of Saturday's race on Long Island, N.Y. The horse's team told reporters it has run its last race.
"It was a helluva run," said owner J. Paul Reddam at a news conference shortly after the bombshell announcement. "I really thought he was going to run off tomorrow and really show something.
"He can't compete at the top level," Reddam added, "but he's done enough."
Trainer Doug O’Neill said the problem emerged after a preliminary trot on Friday morning.
"We took an easy gallop with him today," O'Neill said. "He looked great on the track."
But moments later, swelling that had occurred earlier this week returned. The horse's doctor told the team it was the start of tendonitis. At that point, said O'Neill, "It was unanimous ... to retire him."
I'll Have Another defeated Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby in early May, then edged him out again weeks later with a furious late charge in the Preakness. With Bodemeister sitting out the Belmont, fans had hope that I'll Have Another could become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 — and just the 12th of all-time. The horse was listed as the odds-on favorite at 4-5 in Wednesday's morning line.
Asked by ESPN's Dan Patrick on a radio appearance just prior to the news conference if I'll Have Another had run his last race, O'Neill replied: "If I had to wager ... yes."
Reddam said jockey Mario Gutierrez took the news well, considering its injury cost him a shot at the hat trick of horse racing
"He was sad for the horse, really," Reddam said of the jockey who rose from obscure races to the brink of greatness. "He just had a tremendous bonding with I'll Have Another, as everyone has seen. But he's just glad that the horse is okay."
Triple Crowns have historically come in waves. While Affirmed was the last horse to win the vaunted Triple Crown, its historic run followed a similar feat the previous year by Seattle Slew. Secretariat pulled off horse racing's hat trick in 1973. There were four Triple Crown winners in the 1940s and three in the 1930s.
The ouster could pave the way for second favorite Dullahan to emerge victorios, but that was of little consolation to his team.
"It's devastating. I thought this was going to be one of the greatest races in history, and I wanted the opportunity to be part of it," said Dale Romans, trainer of second favorite Dullahan. "But this is bigger than that. This is terrible news."
I'll Have Another came out of a losing effort in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga with shin problems last September and then took the remainder of 2011 off. In February, he returned to racing, winning the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, putting the colt firmly on the Triple Crown trail.
O'Neill and owner Reddam immediately gave I'll Have Another two months off leading up to the Santa Anita Derby, which he won by a nose in April.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.