I’ll Have Another, the chestnut colt that had come two-thirds of the way to a Triple Crown, has been retired the day before this Saturday's Belmont Stakes due to a foreleg injury.
As has so often been the case with the high-stakes, big-money sport of horse racing in recent years, the shocking turn of events, which came amid a massive buildup to Saturday’s race, was accompanied by a cloud of suspicion around a trainer, this time Doug O’Neill. In a new twist, horse racing’s ruling body in New York made the unprecedented decision to impose extra-tight security around the horses in a move some called, “The O’Neill Rule.”
Last week, Mr. O’Neill, who has been sanctioned multiple times, was given a 45-day suspension by a California horse-racing body for an incident involving a different horse in a 2010 race. Officials suspected the horse had received an illegal, performance-enhancing “milkshake” by trainers.
There was no indication on Friday that those allegations had any bearing on the decision to scratch I’ll Have Another from the Belmont or the horse’s retirement, which is likely a bid to make sure the colt remains healthy enough to breed. O’Neill, who is well-liked in the horse racing community and who has maintained his innocence throughout, was to begin serving his suspension after the Belmont.
In an interview on the Dan Patrick Show on Friday, Dennis O’Neill, Doug’s brother, said I’ll Have Another exhibited soreness in a practice run, noting the horse had a "little problem with his left front leg" and the "start of some tendonitis," O'Neill told the radio show. “It’s not tragic, but it’s a huge disappointment.”
I’ll Have Another has come up clean in all previous drug tests, though O’Neill’s difficulties, some have said, could still have overshadowed the horse’s accomplishment if he were to have won the Belmont.
“There will likely always be a question about whether he has been pure throughout this process,” writes Bleacher Report’s Mike Chiari.
Other commentators were more skeptical about the doping suspicions, saying New York horse racing officials themselves raised the stakes and doping questions by enacting the extra-tight security ahead of the race. Without the new rule, “would a vast part of the public have come away mumbling that I’ll Have Another was a drug horse?” asks Tim Layden, the “Inside Horse Racing” columnist for Sports Illustrated. “I don’t think so.”
I’ll Have Another, which was sold as a yearling for $11,000 and is now worth as much as $8 million, became the first horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby to win the race after starting at post position 19, coming from way behind to beat the favorite, Bodemeister, by 1-1/2 lengths. He beat Bodemeister again in the Preakness last month, this time by a neck.
First-time Triple Crown jockey Mario Gutierrez has called I’ll Have Another “the one.” No horse has won all three major races since Affirmed did it in 1978.