05/31/2012 3:32PM

Belmont Stakes notes: Close call for I'll Have Another; Alpha out


ELMONT, N.Y. - The Belmont Stakes lost one starter on Thursday morning. Then it nearly lost its star.

Alpha, one of four graded stakes winners in the prospective field for the Belmont Stakes was withdrawn from consideration because of a fever, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

Meanwhile, the race could have lost its marquee player - Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another - when the 3-year-old filly Isleta, trained by Carl Domino, dumped her rider and got loose shortly after I'll Have Another came on the track for training around 8:45 a.m.

A riderless Isleta, a maiden 3-year-old filly bred and co-owned by the Steinbrenner family's Kinsman Stable, came roaring up alongside I'll Have Another, who was being ponied by Lava Man midway on the clubhouse turn. O'Neill said Isleta grazed exercise rider Jonny Garcia's boot, but did not come in contact with I'll Have Another.

O'Neill said the fact that I'll Have Another stayed straight and did not turn perpendicular to the rail, prevented him from getting hit and possibly injured.

Barbara D. Livingston
Exercise rider Jonny Garcia notices 3-year-old filly Isleta running loose on the main track where I'll Have Another was training Thursday morning, accompanied by Lava Man.

[BELMONT STAKES: Video updates, expected field, early odds]

"I'm still a little twisted by it," O'Neill said holding his stomach about an hour after the incident. "I can't think about it. If I had never seen one of those moments before I would be, 'Oh those never happen,' but I've seen accidents like that happen and they're ugly."

After running past I'll Have Another, Isleta continued on for one full lap around the Belmont main track and even got out of the gap and onto the training track. Domino reported that neither Isleta nor her exercise rider was injured.

Meanwhile I'll Have Another galloped another strong mile, getting the last three furlongs of it in 39.67 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form.

[I’LL HAVE ANOTHER: Derby, Preakness winner runs for Triple Crown]

The incident involving the loose horse prompted O'Neill to contact New York Racing Association officials to see if they would set aside a designated time for Belmont Stakes horses to train, a similar protocol as Churchill Downs employs for Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses.

P.J. Campo, NYRA's vice-president/director of racing, announced early Thursday afternoon that Belmont horses would have the track to themselves - if they want it - from 8:30 to 8:45. This means the renovation break has been moved up by 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Campo was also working on creating a detention barn solely for the Belmont Stakes runners as mandated on Wednesday by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. With a full barn area, Campo got cooperation from trainer Bill Badgett, who will move the horses he has stabled in Barn 2 to other open stalls at the track or elsewhere. While the state has mandated that all horses must be in the same barn -- with round the clock security as well as other precautions -- by noon Wednesday, the barn will open on Tuesday, Campo said.

"We'll fulfill the obligation we have to fulfill, they're the regulator, that's what they want us to do, so we're going to do it to the fullest of our capability," said Campo, who said he wasn't notified about the request until Wednesday.

During his daily press conference, O'Neill said Thursday he doesn't mind having to move a detention barn, he just wish it could have been done sooner to give his horse more time to acclimate.

"I wish we could go over there today," O'Neill said Thursday morning. "It sounded like it was not a real organized thing, kind of a late decision. In hindsight I wish they could have decided that earlier and we all could have been settled into the detention barn, but that's okay. It's inconvenient for the horse and the  staff. This horse is so just unbelievable, you could change stalls everyday between now and the Belmont and he's going to be just fine."

Dale Romans, the trainer of Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Dulluhan, was upset about having to move to the detention barn.

"They're basically saying we're all a bunch of crooks and they're gonna make sure we're not gonna do anything illegal," Romans said. "These decisions are made by people who probably never stepped foot on the backside."

In other Belmont news, Optimizer, the sixth-place finisher in the Preakness, worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.

Working by himself with Jon Court up, Optimizer was timed by Churchill clockers in splits of 13.20 seconds, 25.60, 37.40, 48.60, and caught him galloping out in 1:14.20.

Lukas told Churchill officials he plans to ship Optimizer and four or five others to New York on Tuesday.