I'll Have Another's bid for the first U.S. Triple Crown in 34 years ended shockingly in the barn and not on the racetrack on Friday when the colt was scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes and retired with a swollen tendon.
"It's been an incredible ride, an incredible run,'' trainer Doug O'Neill said.
"It's a bummer. It's not tragic, but it's a huge disappointment.''
I'll Have Another, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in stirring style, was the 4-5 favorite to win the Belmont and become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since 1978.
Instead, he becomes the 12th horse since Affirmed, the last Triple Crown champion, to win the first two legs but not the Belmont.
The scratch marks the first time since Bold Venture in 1936 that the Derbyand Preakness winner didn't run in the Belmont. Burgoo King skipped the race in 1932.
"Could he run and compete? Yes. Would it be in his best interest? No,'' O'Neill said.
He said the swollen left front tendon was the beginning of tendinitis, which could have taken six months to treat, and so the popular horse was retired.
"Yesterday he galloped great, but in the afternoon we noticed some loss of definition in his left front leg,'' he said, addressing the media outside the Belmont barns while I'll Have Another grazed nearby.
"We did just an easy gallop today. I thought he looked great on the track, and then cooling out, you could tell the swelling was back.''
O'Neill said he conferred with owner J. Paul Reddam and they contacted Dr. Jim Hunt, who examined the horse.
"Dr. Hunt scanned him and he said it was the start of tendinitis in his left front tendon and you can give him 3-to-6 months and start back with him,'' O'Neill said.
"`It was unanimous between the Reddams and my brother and I and everyone at the barn to retire him.''
Reddam confirmed that, saying: "We're all a bit shocked, but we have to do what's best for the horse. And if he can't compete at the top level, he's done enough.''
Dennis O'Neill said it was hard to tell anything was wrong just by looking at the horse.
"We're all a bit shocked, but we have to do what's best for the horse. And if he can't compete at the top level, he's done enough"
Owner J. Paul Reddam
"He looks great. He's sound. He went great this morning. He looks super (but) you just can't take a chance. He's too valuable of a horse and we love him to death like all of them,'' he said.
"You wouldn't run a horse if you think something might happen.''
Other trainers sympathised with O'Neill's plight.
"I feel terrible for Doug,'' said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Belmont starter Optimizer.
"To come this close and have arguably the best horse, everything being equal, you have to give him the nod as being the best horse. He's done everything he was supposed to. He had four big ones (wins) in a row. That fifth one is tough.''
Billy Turner, who trained Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner, said: "When you're in a Triple Crown campaign, and believe me, I went through it with an undefeated horse, every single day, you worry about this because one little thing can go wrong that makes the whole thing fall apart. So, you are never confident in this situation. Things like this do happen."
"At least the horse is going to be all right. It's not a total tragedy.''