I’ll Have Another’s unexpected retirement ended the horse’s bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 and dealt a financial blow to business at the track, a television network and the colt’s ownership.
Workers at the Centerplate Styles merchandise store at Belmont Park found out about the decision when a man who was ready to buy $700 of clothing backed off the purchase. Carla Ferreira, a cashier, said she was told some people were going home or making other plans instead of staying for today’s race.
“This is a very big hit for business,” Ferreira said in an interview. “Everyone came for the Triple Crown.”
The horse, which won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the first two races in the Triple Crown, had swelling in his left front leg earlier this week, trainer Doug O’Neill said. After looking “perfect” yesterday morning, the swelling returned during a training session and a scan showed “the start of some tendinitis,” the trainer said.
“We were all a bit shocked, but we have to do what’s best for the horse,” J. Paul Reddam, the colt’s owner, said at a news conference at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. “And if he can’t compete at the top level, he’s done enough.”
The end of I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown bid might cost Reddam more than $5 million in the horse’s value, according to Baden P. “Buzz” Chace, a bloodstock agent who buys and sells horses for clients.
O’Neill said the sudden turn of events on the track was “far from tragic, but it is very disappointing.”
“Obviously, he’s done so much that it was unanimous between the Reddams, my brother and I, and everyone in the barn to retire him,” the trainer said at the news conference.
The rapid switch from a shot at the sport’s top prize to the end of I’ll Have Another’s career underscores how difficult horse racing sponsorship can be, said Bob Dorfman of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.
“The fact that the horse has been scratched from the Belmont -- the vagaries of the sport -- is yet another reason why there are minimal endorsement opportunities for thoroughbreds and their handlers,” Dorfman said.
I’ll Have Another was installed this week as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in the Belmont, where he was going to try to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978. Dullahan is now the 9-5 favorite, followed by Union Rags at 3-1.
Dullahan, the third-place runner in the Derby last month, had 5-1 odds before I’ll Have Another was scratched. Union Rags originally had 6-1 odds. Post time is 6:40 p.m. New York time.
The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and not start in the Belmont was Bold Venture in 1936. The horse was pulled because he bowed a tendon during training at Belmont Park.
The track had expected a crowd of 120,000 for today’s card. The New York Racing Association settled a contract dispute with union workers this week who had threatened to strike and jeopardize the running of the 1 1/2-mile race.
“Hopefully they’ll still have a full house,” O’Neill said in an interview on Dan Patrick’s radio show, where he broke the news of the Belmont scratch. “I hope I’ll Have Another’s defection doesn’t shrink that too much. I’m sure the NYRA people probably want to slap me around a little, but I’ve just got to do what’s in the best interest of the horse.”
Without I’ll Have Another, the race figures to draw fewer viewers on NBC, which said it is “working now to adjust the game plan accordingly.”
“The Belmont Stakes is still an iconic event on the sports schedule, and the NBC Sports Group broadcasts will treat it as such,” the Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US) network said in an e-mailed statement.
NYRA Chairman C. Steven Duncker issued a statement expressing his disappointment for everyone who wanted to see I’ll Have Another run. Belmont Stakes Day’s 13 races will be run as scheduled, therefore all tickets are non-refundable, the NYRA said.
All advance wagers on the Belmont Stakes involving I’ll Have Another can be canceled at any mutuel window, the NYRA said.
Sports books in Nevada said the news would drastically cut betting interest in the Belmont.
“It’ll be like booking the fifth race at Finger Lakes,” Jimmy Vaccaro, the director of sports operations at Lucky’s Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “It’s truly sad. What we miss now is the people who wouldn’t be horse bettors coming out to try to watch history.”
O’Neill is facing a 45-day suspension starting no sooner than July 1 for a California racing violation. He was sanctioned after excessive levels of total carbon dioxide were found in a sample from Argenta, a filly who finished eighth in the sixth race at Del Mar Racetrack on Aug. 25, 2010. Under California rules, the trainer is accountable for ensuring a horse’s condition.
The 3-year-old chestnut colt may have turned $35,000 into $10 million for his owners with even more money spread around the industry had he won the Belmont, Chace, the bloodstock agent, said before I’ll Have Another was retired. The valuation is closer to the lower end of $3 million to $5 million now, Chace said yesterday.
“It was better he did not run if he wasn’t 100 percent,” Chace said in a telephone interview. “If he had lost the Belmont, it would have hurt him more had he gone to stud.”
Doug Cauthen, owner of Doug Cauthen Thoroughbred Management LLC, said “he’s probably now a $4 to $6 million horse.”
Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, starting with Sir Barton in 1919. The others are the father and son duo of Gallant Fox and Omaha in 1930 and 1935, War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946) Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed.
Centerplate Styles was selling purple t-shirts that read “I’ll Have Another, Racing Towards the Triple Crown” for $30. They hung on a rack with other merchandise for today’s race.
“We have a whole box in the back,” Ferreira said of the shirts. “Right now I don’t know what to do with them.”
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