12/27/2012 12:54PM

2012 Year In Review: I'll Have Another embodied season of defections, debate

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Barbara D. Livingston
May 19: I'll Have Another (left) runs down Bodemeister again to win the Preakness.

I’ll Have Another. His owner, Paul Reddam, said the colt was named for the extra cookies he would request each night, a sugar rush perhaps not unlike the giddy feeling of seeing a horse on the cusp of attempting to sweep the Triple Crown.

I’ll Have Another. The likely request to the bartender of a dispirited patron, head in hand at the end of the bar, attempting to wash his sorrows, perhaps after learning there would be no Triple Crown attempt after all. There was no joy in Elmont. Mighty Casey at least got to strike out. I’ll Have Another never got to the plate.

If there was any horse who embodied 2012, it was I’ll Have Another. He raised hopes of the first Triple Crown sweep since 1978 with his victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, but he never got a chance to compete in the Belmont Stakes. He was scratched the day before the race and retired because of a tendon injury.

His defection was a microcosm of the 3-year-old class of 2012, which began with great promise only to crumble like peppermint bark. By year’s end, I’ll Have Another, Belmont winner Union Rags, Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, 2011 2-year-old champ Hansen, Wood Memorial winner Gemologist, and divisional stalwart Creative Cause all were retired.

Big as that story arc was, though, it was minor compared with the larger impact I’ll Have Another had on the sport. In a year when the debate over medication, legal and otherwise, boomed like thunder, I’ll Have Another and his trainer, Doug O’Neill, were the lightning rods. And New York became the eye of the medication storm.

The headwinds were swirling across the nation when it came to equine health. In California, the HBO series “Luck” was abruptly canceled in March after an accident caused the death of a horse used in production. In New Mexico, the competence of the state’s drug-testing and enforcement were called into question in a New York Times article that was the first in a series focusing on those topics nationwide. It was a particularly harsh winter at Aqueduct in New York, where a rash of deaths in racing and training led to a state-created task force on health and safety.

Into that stepped I’ll Have Another and O’Neill, who entered the Triple Crown with a medication violation from 2010 in California yet to be resolved.

The circus didn’t come to town. Rather, the town became a circus. The New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which has oversight over the New York Racing Association – operator of Belmont Park – mandated that horses could not use something as seemingly harmless as a nasal strip. Not coincidentally, I’ll Have Another had been using a nasal strip. Days later, the racing board decided to house the horses for the June 9 Belmont Stakes in a detention barn, which was not announced until May 30. Not coincidentally, I’ll Have Another had won the Preakness on May 19.

The detention barn was mandated with such little foresight, some trainers said, that if the detention barn was intended to secure a safe environment for the horses, it was having the opposite effect.

“The barn is ridiculous. There’s too many horses in there doing the same things at the same time,” said Dale Romans, who was to send out Dullahan in the Belmont. “I don’t think anybody who set up that barn or made the rules was thinking about the horse.”

A debate raged over I’ll Have Another and whether he would be a worthy Triple Crown winner. In 2012, his supporters pointed out, he had won all four of his starts and passed postrace drug tests each time – in three states. His detractors pointed to the taint of sins his trainer was deemed to have committed in the past.

And then the day before the race, I’ll Have Another was scratched. He later was sold and sent to Japan for stud duty.

While I’ll Have Another’s career came to an abrupt end, racing’s attempt to grapple with medication and equine health continued. The Breeders’ Cup, which along with The Jockey Club has emerged as the most powerful entity in the sport, phased in a ban of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide (Salix, formerly known as Lasix) in its races for 2-year-olds. There was movement in some jurisdictions to eliminate or sharply curtail Salix, which pitted those who saw any use of raceday medication as inhumane against those who saw the raceday use of Salix and the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone (Bute) as humane necessities for equine athletes.

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There were plenty of off-track controversies, too, notably in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo strong-armed a takeover of NYRA just months after a state report that led to the dismissal of top NYRA executives. In a coup de grace to a tumultuous year, Superstorm Sandy pounded Belmont Park and Aqueduct, as well as Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

One thing that racing has proved for decades is its resiliency. It was no different in 2012.

The poster boy was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who suffered a heart attack in Dubai the week of the World Cup in March but recovered and saw his powerful stable have another strong year. He led his brethren in Grade 1 wins and is second in purse earnings to Todd Pletcher.

Concurrent with Baffert’s recovery was that of Paynter, the Baffert-trained Haskell winner who became dangerously ill in August but was nursed back to health and might even race again in 2013. Paynter’s odyssey was one of the most popular topics on social media, with fans gravitating to Facebook and Twitter for regular updates on his condition. Social media also became more embraced by racing’s key players. For instance, largely because of social media, Romans invited fans to visit the popular Shackleford, as well as Dullahan and Little Mike, at Santa Anita the week of the Breeders’ Cup.

Summer business at Del Mar was robust for its 75th anniversary season, and the bloodstock market continued its rebound, particularly at the Keeneland yearling sales in September and then in November, when 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, now a broodmare, was sold for $10 million.

The milestones were many. Rosie Napravnik became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks, aboard Believe You Can. Ramon Dominguez, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey in 2010 and 2011, put himself in position for a possible third straight title by setting a season record for purses, his mounts earning more than $25.1 million.

The 143-year-old Travers had its first dead heat for victory when Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together. And though he never raced outside of Great Britain, racing fans in this country, in fact the world over, were captivated by the exploits of the unbeaten Frankel, named for the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.

Jockey John Velazquez headed a Hall of Fame induction class that also included trainers Roger Attfield and Bob Wheeler, 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, pre-Civil War standout Planet, and jockey Anthony Hamilton, who rode in the late 1800s. Velazquez is still going strong. He leads the nation’s riders in Grade 1 wins this year and is third in purse earnings behind Dominguez and Javier Castellano.

The wildly popular Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta both had their first foals. Rapid Redux ran his record-setting winning streak to 22 straight before being retired. Even a four-decade wrong was righted when the Maryland Racing Commission, presented with overwhelming forensic evidence, finally credited Secretariat with setting a track record when he won the 1973 Preakness. Secretariat now holds the stakes record for all three Triple Crown races.

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Time did not stand still for jockey Chantal Sutherland, nor Churchill Downs track superintendent Butch Lehr, both of whom retired. The Thoroughbred Times suddenly ceased publication, leaving only The Blood-Horse as a weekly trade publication for the sport, though Daily Racing Form brought aboard many of The Thoroughbred Times’s key players.

The sport lost many prominent personalities, including Sham’s trainer, Frank “Pancho” Martin; former racetrack executive Marje Everett; owner-breeders Joe Allbritton, Walter Haefner, Louise Humphrey, and Larry Mabee; stewards Pete Pedersen and Mickey Sample; and Loyd “Boo” Gentry, the trainer of 1967 Derby winner Proud Clarion.

Other notable deaths were trainers Lewis Cenicola, Shauna Ferguson, Bud Klokstad, Steve Morguelan, Lyman Rollins, Mitch Shirota, and Mike Tammaro; jockeys Jorge Herrera, Alex Maese, E.J. Perrodin, and Eddie Razo Jr.; owners and breeders Sondra Bender, Barbara Hunter, Don Little, Buddy New, and Herbert Schwartz; veterinarian Dr. Arnold Pessin; racetrack executive Mike Mackey; steward-turned-historian Dick Hamilton; photojournalists Tony Leonard and Michael J. Marten; writers Joe Kelly, Rick Lang, and Elmer Polzin; agent Joe Rosen; lobbyist Rod Blonien; actor and owner Jack Klugman; and Carmen Barrera, the widow of the late Laz Barrera, who trained the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed.

Three of the most influential stallions of the last decade − Dynaformer, Montjeu, and Pulpit − died, as did stallions Aptitude, Boundary, Eltish, Grand Slam, Peaks and Valleys, Purim, and Sightseeing; pensioned stallions Fortunate Prospect, Houston, and Skip Trial; former Breeders’ Cup winners Artax, Cardmania, Chief Bearhart, Hollywood Wildcat, Lit de Justice, Maram, Royal Academy, and Theatrical; 2004 Queen’s Plate winner Niigon, former Canadian champ Sand Cove, and the horse who had been the oldest living Triple Crown race winner, Deputed Testamony, who captured the 1983 Preakness.

Stakes winners cut down still in their racing careers were the 2-year-old Spurious Precision, who won the Saratoga Special; the top sprinters Giant Ryan and Yuwanna Twist; and the popular Florida stalwart Mambo Meister. But there might have been no more gut-wrenching moment than at Nashville in May, when the steeplechaser Arcadius collapsed and died of a heart attack only moments after winning the Iroquois.

The year featured moments that were sublime, such as Wise Dan’s course-record performance against 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Royal Delta’s second straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, and Groupie Doll’s overwhelming her rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

And there were the moments that were simply ridiculous, such as when co-owner Kendall Hansen had the tail of his namesake painted blue before the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a decision that angered his trainer, Mike Maker, and Keeneland’s stewards.

The 3-year-old male division might have fallen apart after beginning the year with such promise, but the male turf division – with Wise Dan, Little Mike, and Point of Entry – was the strongest in years in this country. Particularly encouraging is that so many of the nation’s elite older runners in 2012 – including Breeders’ Cup winners Fort Larned, Groupie Doll, Little Mike, Mizdirection, Royal Delta, Trinniberg, and Wise Dan, as well as Animal Kingdom, Dullahan, Game On Dude, Marketing Mix, Mucho Macho Man, My Miss Aurelia, Point of Entry, and Take Charge Indy – are scheduled to continue racing into 2013.

Read more: Division-by-division review of 2012