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No Triple Crown threat this year

By Clark Spencer, McClatchy Newspapers –

ELMONT, N.Y. — Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin the morning of the race.

Pleasant Colony expended precious energy when he was frightened by either a firecracker or the sound of someone banging on the metal side of a manure truck — depending on the story one wants to believe most — on his way to be saddled.

Real Quiet’s jockey made his move too soon.

Most were simply defeated in the standard manner of a race: by faster horses.

Eleven horses since Affirmed in 1978 have gone to Belmont needing one final win to cap off the Triple Crown, and all 11 failed.

I’ll Have Another makes it an even dozen.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was scratched from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes because of a leg injury, becoming the latest horse to fall just short of thoroughbred racing’s most treasured — and increasingly elusive — prize.

“I’m afraid history is going to have to wait another day,” said the colt’s dejected owner, Paul Reddam, not long after Friday’s stunning news swept through the New York race track and drained the enthusiasm from Saturday’s race.

Poised to become only the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown, I’ll Have Another not only lost his chance when tendinitis was discovered in his left front leg following a pre-dawn test gallop Friday morning, but he was retired from racing as a result.

“This is extremely tough for all of us,” said his trainer, Doug O’Neill.

All was supposedly well with I’ll Have Another when he arrived in New York following triumphant stops in Kentucky and Maryland last month, and the track oddsmaker made him the 4-5 favorite to prevail in the 1 ½-mile Belmont against a field of 11, mostly undistinguished, opponents. His fiercest challenger, Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, was skipping the race.

As recently as Wednesday, at the post position draw ceremony, O’Neill said his horse was doing “great.”

But O’Neill acknowledged Friday that, within the past several days, he was starting to see subtle hints of an injured horse.

After the colt’s morning gallop Thursday, O’Neill said “we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg which, like every owner and trainer, we prayed he just kind of hit himself and it was just a little bit of skin irritation.”

On Friday, the concerned trainer altered routine and sent the chestnut 3-year-old, with his regular exercise rider aboard, into the Belmont darkness for a 5:30 a.m. gallop — three hours earlier than usual for his morning paces.

“I thought he looked great on the track,” O’Neill said. “And then, cooling out, you could tell that the swelling was back and, at that point, I didn’t feel very good.”

A veterinarian confirmed O’Neill’s worst fears. The horse was injured.

With time, I’ll Have Another could have raced again, though perhaps not at the high level that turned him into an overnight sensation. But the decision was made to abandon any thought of that and retire him to stud duty, which he’ll begin next year.

A crowd of more than 100,000 was expected to cram into Belmont to see if I’ll Have Another had what it took to end the long drought since Affirmed won the Belmont 34 years ago and joined the 10 previous winners of the Triple Crown. Affirmed’s co-owner, Patrice Wolfson of Bal Harbour, not only planned to attend, but also was cheering for I’ll Have Another to make history.

Wolfson said she has saved every memento possible from that ‘78 camelot, everything from the dresses and ties she and her late-husband, Louis Wolfson, wore throughout the series, to wisps of hair from Affirmed’s mane and tail.

“It seems like only yesterday,” she said only a few days ago, standing in the clubhouse at Belmont.

For the sport of horse racing, it feels more like eons.

There is not a living winner of the Triple Crown.

Eleven horses will go to post for Saturday’s Belmont. The horse everyone wanted to see won’t be one of them.

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