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I’ll Have Another’s scratching from the 2012 Belmont Stakes
(Image : Bettor - Footage : SB Nation)
BELMONT STAKES (Grade 1)
Belmont Park, Dirt, 2400m
9 June 2012
Word began to circulate just after 11 at Belmont Park on Friday morning. It almost seemed unbelievable. But it was true.
I’ll Have Another, 30 hours from walking into the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes, was going to be scratched. He would not get the chance to join the 11 other 3-year-old colts who had achieved the elusive Triple Crown.
One track worker called home: “Did you hear that? They scratched the horse!” A horseplayer threw his programme and shouted, “Unbelievable.”
Jimmy Crennan of Williston Park, Long Island, who has been to every Belmont since 1980, was set up in the backyard area. “Shock and disappointment,” he said. “It’s like the air comes out of the balloon. I got here today, and I was in such good spirits. I’m sure there will be 30,000 less people here tomorrow now.”
The scratch was extraordinary. Only two previous horses who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes did not contest the Belmont, and those, Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936, were well before the Triple Crown matured into mainstream prominence.
The Triple Crown is a demanding series. More than nearly any other trainer, D. Wayne Lukas can speak to that. He has won the Belmont Stakes four times and in 1999 his colt Charismatic broke down and finished third in his effort to capture the Triple Crown. Lukas, 76, will saddle the long shot Optimizer in the Belmont on Saturday.
Standing in the paddock soon after hearing the news, Lukas said: “It’s a part of the game the general public doesn’t realize. For Doug to get this horse this far, he had to basically live with him.” Lukas shook his head. “Boy, it knocks you right to your knees,” he said. “This game is humbling.”
Lukas himself was not in great shape. He had a gash on his left temple, and underneath his sunglasses a vicious shiner surrounded his left eye. On Tuesday, one of his horses kicked his head, sending him to the hospital with a concussion and a pint less blood.
Like O’Neill, Lukas has been in this position. The day before the 1995 Belmont Stakes, he scratched the heavily favored Timber Country because of a fever. The Kentucky Derby favorites A.P. Indy, in 1992, and I Want Revenge, in 2009, were scratched before the race. I’ll Have Another’s scratch also called to mind Majestic Prince, who in 1969 entered the Belmont Stakes undefeated but with a known tendon injury. His trainer Johnny Longden was pressured into running him, and he finished second but never raced again.
O’Neill called I’ll Have Another’s injury a “freakish thing,” but Lukas said the rigors of the Triple Crown had escalated over the years. The fields are larger in Triple Crown races now, and the graded-stakes earnings required to get into the Derby require aggressive campaigning early in a horse’s career.
“The Triple Crown does take more out of horses now,” Lukas said. “It’s much more demanding. Much more.”
Behind Lukas, on benches circling the paddock, early arrivals were turning over the news. Besides disbelief, there was, as befits racetrack habitués, cynicism.
“I think he would have got beat anyway,” said John Rosiak, a Queens resident who said he had been coming to Belmont for 50 years. “He would have come in third or fourth.”
Rosiak said he had 20 bets for the Belmont he had to place for his friends and relatives. But he said none of them had to be changed. I’ll Have Another was nowhere on those tickets.
“They all seem to like Optimizer,” he said.
Hours earlier, there were no outward signs portending the unfortunate turn for I’ll Have Another. A few people milled about at O’Neill’s barn at 9:30 am, and they were in good spirits.
By 12:45, dozens of reporters had formed a bottleneck outside the detention barn where I’ll Have Another and his 11 expected rivals have resided since Wednesday.
Nearby, two security guards stood on the path that leads from the barns to the racetrack. Five precocious 2-year-old colts and one 2-year-old filly bounced on their toes on their way over for the second race. It was a well-bred bunch, and the thought occurred, as it does when races for 2-year-olds are run this time of year, that a classics winner might be among them.
The security guards stoically acknowledged that they had heard the news of I’ll Have Another. One of them said to the other, “At least it will be quieter tomorrow.”
Racetrack life ticked on under a warm sun. But another chance had passed, and the crowning of a 12th Triple Crown champion again looked far away.
Extract from The New York Times