Updated on 05/28/2013 2:25PM

Hovdey: Sad day for I'll Have Another, but not a tragic one

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Tom Keyser
Owner Paul Reddam, I'll Have Another, and trainer Doug O'Neill at the news conference to announce the horse's retirement.

The superficial flexor tendon of the equine forelimb is about 18 inches long. It runs from just above the knee to the pastern. It is about 1.2 centimeters wide and five millimeters thick, and on Friday at Belmont Park, if you asked around, there was nothing superficial about it.

In fact, the injury sustained by I’ll Have Another, forcing his scratch from the 144th Belmont Stakes the following day, was a deep wound to the heart of the sport, poised as it was to welcome the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 to the ranks of the 11 colts who had come before.

Instead, as Paul Reddam said while addressing a restless, disappointed bank of television camera operators and milling media early Friday afternoon at Belmont’s Barn 2, where I’ll Have Another and the 11 other Belmont Stakes runners had been sequestered since Wednesday, “History will have to wait.”

The good news, at least in the case of I’ll Have Another, is that the darker corners of Triple Crown history will not be repeated. There will be no tragedy of Tim Tam, who needed only to win the 1958 Belmont to become the third Triple Crown winner for Calumet Farm, but shattered his ankle trying. There will be no heartbreak of Charismatic, who was still fighting to win the Belmont when he cracked his cannon bone in 1999.

Neither will there be the bitter second-guessing that surrounded Majestic Prince, whose ankles were feeling the effects of tough battles in the Derby and Preakness with Arts and Letters as the Belmont approached, to the point that trainer John Longden recommended to owner Frank McMahon that their grand chestnut colt not run. Longden was overruled. Majestic Prince lost without a fight and never raced again.

Hopefully, even the most uninitiated among modern fans and media appreciated the jeopardy in which I’ll Have Another could have been placed had he run with an undetected lesion on one of the major support tissues of the delicate foreleg structure. Dr. Larry Bramlage, noted surgeon and on-call veterinarian for the Triple Crown series, compared the superficial flexor tendon to the Achilles tendon in human anatomy.

“But the Achilles tendon has muscle in it,” Bramlage explained. “That gives it the ability to stretch. The superficial flexor is even more highly evolved. It is the only tendon segment in the equine that has no muscle in it at all. It’s purely an elastic band. That is why it takes so long to heal, because the mature Thoroughbred does not produce any more tendon tissue.”

Wayne Lukas was making his way down the horse path early Friday afternoon as the news about I’ll Have Another circulated, still sporting a nasty gash in his forehead and a dark purple shiner from the blow he sustained a few days earlier from the front foot of his crack sprinter, Hamazing Destiny.

“I guarantee Doug feels a lot worse than I do,” Lukas said, referring to trainer Doug O’Neill. “I told him he had the best horse in the race, and something had to happen for him not to win.”

Then something did.

“I’ve been there before,” Lukas said, harkening back to Belmont week of 1995. “I remember winning a stakes on Friday with Serena’s Song, and going back to the barn all happy. Then my assistant tells me Timber Country’s got a temperature of 105.”

Timber Country, fresh from winning the Preakness, was favored to add the Belmont the following day. Four years later Lukas found himself down on the racetrack, helping the emergency medical crew usher Charismatic into the equine ambulance.

“I told Doug what a great job he was doing, weathering all the pressure,” Lukas added. “He deserves better than this.”

So do the fans who were so excited about the prospect of a Triple Crown winner, not to mention the many racetrack vendors who were going to have a banner day on Saturday, now diluted by the loss of the marquee name. The sport itself will suffer not only from the loss of the attendant excitement of a Triple Crown winner - had I’ll Have Another come through – but also from what is sure to be an onslaught of skeptical head-scratching over the star attraction not answering the bell.

All they need to do is consider the alternative. As injuries go, the damage to I’ll Have Another is minor in dimension, though major in dreadful possibilities. This is not the same as the failure of a six-dollar ball bearing that cost Parnelli Jones the 1967 Indy 500. When the taut superficial flexor tendon of the Thoroughbred foreleg fails it can initiate terrible damage, since it plays such an important role in support of each stride taken by a Thoroughbred at racehorse speed.

As the media gathered at the Belmont Stakes barn Friday, edgy and wanting answers, trainer Bill Badgett cruised past on the way to the grandstand. To such scenes he was not a stranger, having suffered the fatal breakdown of champion filly Go for Wand in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Belmont Park, 22 years ago.

“It’s a shame,” Badgett said. “I feel bad for those folks. But better something like this happens in the morning than the afternoon.”

Vincent Condeni More than 1 year ago
Hi Anon, Please use your name when making comments. Only cowards use phoney names and make vicious remarks. Today's DRF has about 15 or 20 Professional Analysts making their Belmont predictions or educated guesses! I'm neither blowing my Horn nor am I coward I have had tremendous success over the past 10 years using a mathematical approach to our tough game Actually, I'm better at Casino Games, Dice and Blackjack. Obviously, I have an Internet account for making racing bets. When in Vegas, with my Wife of 60 years, I like to play the Ponies in their comfortable Bookshops. Their Staffs provide any drinks and food I we want and I always am comped at their gourmet restaurants based on my table [play. In short, life is good and I enjoy posting my Racing picks only on major racing events, the TC and Breeders Cup feature race! Long time ago, my MOM taught me a valuable lesson. "If You Can't Say Anything nice about Someone, Don't say Nothing!" These are words to live by and practice in our postings! Incidentally good luck with my Belmont picks today. The Handicapping process was tougher with IHA out of the race! I believe a Long Shot will hit one of the four top spots! My System picked MY ADONIS. I hope He Runs to His Number! Good Luck and Good Health, Always! Diceman
Mike B More than 1 year ago
Drug O'Neill
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think Barbaro should have been scratched out of the Preakness because he was hurt going in. My proof is that when horses are hurt it stresses them out. When they are stressed out they act erratic and do things like burst from the gate before the race goes off. Furthermore, after Barbaro breaks through the gate you can see Edgar Prado repeatedly look back at Barbaro,s right, back ankle as if he thought something may be wrong with it. His suspicions turned out to be correct. Why didn't anyone ever ask Prado why he kept looking back at Barbaro's ankle after he busted through the gate? If any horse was already hurt before breaking down in a race it was Barbaro in my humble opinion. I'm sorry to say that but why was Barbaro acting erratic and why did Prado keep looking back at that ankle? Speaking of Go For Wand, Randy Romero got hurt pretty bad in that spill didn't he. Another HUGE reason why these horses must be 100% to race. Not trying to say GFW was already hurt before the race either. She couldn't have done what she did if already hurt. You don't stay with Bayakoa for a mile and a sixteenth on 3 legs as some one mentioned earlier.
Vincent Condeni More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay, This note if for You, Steve and Andy all my Special Handicapping Friends. As promised, after my clean sweep in the Preakness, hitting the Exacta, Trifecta and 10 Cent Super, below are the resulys of my Analytical Math System for today's Belmont Race by Post Position: Street Life - 10 Points (Maximum is 13 Pts) Unstoppable U - 9 Pts Union Rags - 13 Pts Atigun - 2 Pts Dullahan - 11 Pts Ravelo's Boy - 5 Pts Five Sixteen - 7 Pts Guyana Star Dwell - 9 Pts Paynter - 10 Pts Optimizer - 8 Pts I'll Have Another - Scratched My Adonis - 11 Pts From the above analysis, Union Rags is the logical play. Therefore, if the Track remain Fast, I plan to make the following bets: Key Box Union Rags in all exotic wagers, with Dullahan, My Adonis, Street Life and Paynter. If the Track comes up Wet from Thunderstorms, all Belmont wagers are off. Good Luck and may the Gods of Racing be with You! Diceman
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate when handicappers tute their own horn. Nobody on here cares abut your points system, and your clean sweep your so proud of included all the favorites. A million others hit that exacta and tri. No one can tell if I won or lost at the track and i want it that way. If I do win big and someone asks about it I tell them I won "a little".
Meathead More than 1 year ago
great article jay and the conspiritists can now have something to write about instead of Obamas Birth Certificate.I for one would rather have him withdrawn than risk the public given another reason to condemn horse racing with another breakdown of a loved horse in front of millions of viewers. cudos to the connections for their decision to scratch and glad they did it the day before instead of raceday when people were on the way to the track remember AP Indy? MH01 MH01
Rebecca More than 1 year ago
when does this trainer do his time for illegal medications to his horses? how long will he be away
Steve Dobek More than 1 year ago
You mean for the charges from 2 years ago where the horse just barely exceeded the limit for CO2? He is suspended for 30 days starting sometime after July 1.
Ange More than 1 year ago
Actually it's 45 days
Larry Lewis More than 1 year ago
It's obvious Jay did some research and I think the article was a good one. To suggest the article was anything but an account of why IHA isn't running in the Belmont Stakes makes me think the only bloodstock hustling you ever did was to hustle some Bull through a stockyard chute
Larry Lewis More than 1 year ago
I failed to mention the race I'm referring to in 1990 was the Breeder's Cup Distaff not the Belmont Stakes.
Larry Lewis More than 1 year ago
I was there in 1990 when Go For Wand tried to complete the race on three legs and went down in front of the grandstand not far from the finish line. Another horse went down on the far turn and also had to be destroyed. No doubt IHA is a very good horse and I think he would have lost at one and a half miles, but I also thought Dullehan would beat him in the Derby and Bodemeister would beat him in the Preakness. So, what do I know? I do know that we won't see him go down in the Belmont, so hats off to the owner and connections of IHA for not racing him on the worst racing surface in the world
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
I was there as well . I actually started to cry when G F W got up and started towards the Winners circle - where that was all G F W ever knew . That was so tough / sad to witness .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
started towards the winners circle? She tried to get up and finish the race and went crashing into the outer rail. What race were you watching?
Chrys Walsh More than 1 year ago
Did another horse besides Go For Wand die in the '90 Distaff? Or are you thinking of the Sprint? Because I remember Mr. Nickerson had a heart attack and died in the sprint, and Shaker Knit fell over him and was later killed. But I don't remember another horse dying in the Distaff. Regardless, that was the worst day of racing I've ever seen.
TampaLuke More than 1 year ago
This just didn't happen the way it is being portrayed. It's a fact. This is the biggest disgrace in the sport's shady history. This is really a disgusting day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
can you say wanna-be insider? This website is full of comments like these made by wanna-ba insiders. Don't act like you know something the general public doesn't know by spouting out falsehoods in hopes no one knows better.