Triple Crown Trail: Not This Year

I'll Have Another

I’ll Have Another was retired this morning, ending his bid for the Triple Crown. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

That wailing sound you hear is the executives at NBC lamenting the fact that they still have to air the Belmont Stakes tomorrow, despite the fact that no one will be watching.  In case you have not yet heard, overwhelming favorite I’ll Have Another was scratched and retired this morning with tendonitis of the superficial tendon in his left front leg, ending his bid for the Triple Crown.  He becomes the third horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to miss the Belmont due to injury, after Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936).  In a year where horse racing can only seem to get bad publicity, the news that we will now go 34 seasons without a Triple Crown winner will cause whatever interest the general public had in this race to evaporate instantly.  Matt Hegarty of the Daily Racing Form has written a good analysis of the financial disaster this will be.

Personally, I find myself pulled in different directions over this news.  To be honest, I had very little interest in seeing someone with a record like trainer Doug O’Neill’s win the Triple Crown.  For many people, I’ll Have Another would have always had an asterisk next to his name on the list of Triple Crown winners.  As a cynic, I will always wonder if the infamous Belmont detention barn stopped O’Neill from being able to pump I’ll Have Another full of drugs and race him anyway.  If that’s the case, perhaps this model should be adopted nationwide.

However, a part of me wondered if having a controversial Triple Crown winner would give the sport’s problems enough of a national stage to put some real reforms in motion.  It will take a national effort to clean up horse racing, since state racing boards have proven over and over that they cannot be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of the sport, such as banning race day medication.  Recent decisions to keep Lasix legal have flown in the face of the wishes of both the Jockey Club and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.  Ultimately, racing needs a national body controlling and regulating it.  Handing out suspensions and license revocations at the state level  is pointless if a trainer can just go to a state where he isn’t suspended and continue working.

Anyway, there is still a race to be run, so let’s talk about it:

 

Belmont Stakes (Grade 1, Belmont Park, 3 year olds, 1 1/2 miles , Saturday 6:40 PM EST)

Eleven horses will head to the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes, including Union Rags and Dullahan, who are back after skipping the Preakness.  At a mile-and-a-half, this will be the longest race most of these horses will run in their entire career.  The field:

1. Street Life (12-1): This son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is the kind of horse who does better with a slower, ground-saving trip.  The overall pace will likely be favorable to that running style, so the key for jockey Jose Lezcano will be to not get caught in traffic.  With a good trip, Street Life will have a good chance to overtake the leaders in the stretch.

2. Unstoppable U (30-1): This lightly-raced and undefeated colt has the most speed out of the gate, and will almost certainly set the early pace.  The brutal distance is generally unkind to the horse who sets the early Belmont pace, but stranger things have happened, especially with the distinct lack of speed in the rest of the field.

3. Union Rags (6-1): Union Rags is back after his incredibly disappointing outing in the Kentucky Derby, where he spent most of the race in 18th place.  He has a familiarity with the Belmont track, having won the Grade 1 Champagne here back in October.  Clearly the class of this race, along with Dullahan.  It will be interesting to see how this speedy horse reacts to what will likely be a glacial pace.

4. Atigun (30-1): If it rains tomorrow, this is the pick.  Otherwise, I think his lack of speed will doom him, even with how slow I expect this race to be.

5. Dullahan (5-1): This colt, the new morning line favorite, returns after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and skipping the Preakness.  He’ll have to adjust to a new jockey, Javier Castellano, since his regular rider, Kent Desormeaux, is having some issues (Desormeaux has picked up a ride anyway, on the longshot Guyana Star Dweej).  Dullahan has finished in the money in seven of his nine lifetime starts, and I don’t see any reason that trend won’t continue on Saturday.

6. Ravelo’s Boy (50-1): The first of three consecutive horses in the starting gate with no chance whatsoever.

7. Five Sixteen (50-1): Rosie Napravnik will become the second female jockey to ride in the Belmont Stakes.  The first was Julie Krone, who also won the race in 1993 aboard Colonial Affair.  I think Napravnik is one of the most promising young jockeys out there, and she has a chance to win multiple Triple Crown races in her career, but not on this horse.

8. Guyana Star Dweej (50-1): This colt has no shot either, but I’m rooting for him to be in the mix in the stretch just so Larry Collmus has to shout his name multiple times.

9. Paynter (8-1): This new shooter from trainer Bob Baffert has put a 100 and a 106 Beyer in his last two outings, and looked generally impressive while doing so.  He has passed the eyeball test, but can he pass a real one?  The Belmont has been kind lately to horses that didn’t race in the Derby and Preakness.

10. Optimizer (20-1): He will be the only horse to run in all three of this year’s Triple Crown races, but for what purpose I am still unsure.  As I pointed out in my Preakness preview, he has one career win, and has frequently looked overmatched in Grade 1 races.  Even in this somewhat unimpressive field, you can’t do something over and over and expect the result to change.

11. I’ll Have Another (SCR): Welp.

12. My Adonis (20-1): This team won the Belmont last year with Ruler On Ice, and are hoping to repeat.  The colt has been less impressive as a three-year-old then he was last year, but he has been training well and has better speed than much of the field.  It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to use him in your exotics.

Predictions from (most of) the Sports Dump team:

Greg Baxter:

Win: Union Rags

Place: Paynter

Show: Optimizer

Phil Young:

Win: Street Life

Place: Union Rags

Show: Optimizer

Charlie Copeland:

Win: Dullahan

Place: Optimizer

Show: Union Rags

Richard Phillips:

Win: Street Life

Place: Union Rags

Show: Dullahan

Jonathan Holloway:

The weakness of this field was why I’ll Have Another had a fantastic shot, and it’s the reason why I’ll eat my hat if Union Rags and Dullahan don’t both finish in the money.

Win: Union Rags

Place: Dullahan

Show: Paynter

Saturday marks the end of Triple Crown season — another year gone by with racing’s ultimate prize left unclaimed.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage.  See you around.

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3 thoughts on “Triple Crown Trail: Not This Year

  1. It is my understanding that the race will be “ran” differently now that I’ll Have Another has been scratched. Can you comment on this notion?

  2. Superficial?

    As somebody who has worked in horse racing since 1976 (groom) anything to do with a swollen tendon could of caused this horse to blow a suspensory. And if bad enough this beautiful animal would have it’s life end. Yes O’Neill has had earned his criticism because of drug violations. But no detention barn stopped him from doing anything. No trainer in their right mind would run a horse with a swollen tendon. 10 days ago there was a almost catastrophe in I’ll Have Another’s morning workout with a loose horse on the track who dumped their rider.

    Something tells me that the brakes might have had to be put on to avoid a tragedy but in doing so he may have gotten injured then, but didn’t show up until his workout Friday morning. Better then, then during the running of a mile and a half running at full force. I’d rather have the horse alive then have witnessed him breaking down then having to be put down.

    And a true horse racing enthusiast and fan will always watch the Belmont regardless of a very much awaited disappointment of a new potential Triple Crown winner.

    I do know one thing, there are horses that bleed and bleed bad. It’s more than sad that a better drug then lasix hasn’t came along to control it. Some bleed through it anyway and on a hot day it makes it even worst. I always felt bad for having to pull a horses water bucket after the lasix was given, something you must do for the drug to work.

    Your negativism of horse racing in general speaks blasting volume of un-knowledgement. I never worked for trainers that doped their horses, only the first trainer I did work for did this on occasion and I quit when I found out. We are not all a bunch of unfeeling people who hate horses. I personally love them and felt I was always in the wrong business because i got so attached to them. I got into this game because i loved them. They feel every single emotion a human feels. They are full of love and I loathe those that treat any animal cruelty

    • 1. “Superficial tendon” is what the superficial flexor tendon is often referred to as, and is how the injury was described in Paul Reddam and Doug O’Neill’s press conference yesterday. I apologize if this was unclear in the column. And yes, of course this injury warrants the scratch, which is why I did not question that move in the column. Heck, I’m shocked at the plan to have him lead the post-parade tomorrow, since he might get spooked and do something to make the injury worse.

      2. As a “true horse racing enthusiast and fan” I will of course be watching the Belmont today. My point is that the general public will not be, and that in the long run racing must find a way to expand its fan base (but not at the cost of a horse’s health)

      3. Lasix is, of course, a very complicated debate, but European horse racing seems to do just fine without administering Lasix on race day (and many trainers don’t use it at all). I question whether a horse that “bleeds bad” should be anywhere near a race track.

      4. I’m glad to hear that you only encountered one trainer who doped, but there has been a lot of evidence lately that your experience isn’t necessarily typical. And I fully believe that most people in the industry love their horses (and anyone who doesn’t believe this should watch Larry Jones talk about Eight Belles). However, the fact that you felt you were “in the wrong business” because you “got so attached” to the horses speaks volumes. Look, I love horses, and I love racing, and I know most people in the industry do as well. But the fact remains that horse racing is a sport, and sports are cruel. Sports chew you up and spit you out when they’re done with you — just look at the plight of retired NFL players. I’m not suggesting racing should be banned, but we have to find ways to mitigate the negative consequences for the horses.

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