NEW YORK — The Triple Crown curse lives. This time the horse didn't even make it to the starting gate.
I'll Have Another's bid for the first Triple Crown in 34 years ended stunningly Friday when the chestnut colt was retired on the eve of the Belmont Stakes with an injury to his left front tendon.
"I'm afraid history is going to have to wait for another day," said J. Paul Reddam, the colt's owner.
I'll Have Another, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes with stirring stretch drives, was the 4-5 early favorite to win the Belmont and become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
Instead, he'll make one final trip to the racetrack with his jockey Mario Gutierrez to lead the other Belmont horses during Saturday's post parade — no longer a prelude to greatness, but merely a wistful farewell.
"He'll be my hero forever," a somber Gutierrez said. "What I'll Have Another did for me is so amazing. He brought happiness to my life."
Always the longest and toughest of the Triple Crown events, the 1 1-2-mile Belmont was instantly reduced to being just another big race.
The favorite's role fell to Dullahan, who ran third in the Derby and had been second in the morning line for the Belmont. He was made the 9-5 early choice.
Trainer Doug O'Neill said I'll Have Another was being retired because he developed swelling in his left front tendon that was the beginning of tendinitis.
"This is extremely tough for all of us. It's far from tragic but it's extremely disappointing," he said.
O'Neill's brother, Dennis, said it was hard to tell anything was wrong just by looking at the horse.
"He looks great. He's sound. He went great this morning. He looks super (but) you just can't take a chance," he said. "He's too valuable of a horse and we love him to death like all of them. You wouldn't run a horse if you think something might happen."
The scratch comes a day before an estimated 100,000 fans were expected to converge on the track in hopes of seeing, at long last, a Triple Crown winner — a champion who would help resurrect a struggling racing industry.
I'll Have Another joined 11 other horses since Affirmed who won the Derby and the Preakness, but were unable to complete a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont, extending the longest gap between Triple winners to 35 years. The colt also became the third winner of the first two legs who was unable to run in the finale; Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936 were the others.
"It's like completely letting the air out of a balloon," said Ken McPeek, who trains Belmont contenders Atigun and Unstoppable U.
Dale Romans, who trains Dullahan, said: "This was going to be a special race, one of the biggest races of our time. I'd rather have him in there. It would have been something special to beat him."
Doug O'Neill said he first noticed something might be wrong with the colt Thursday, hours after his usual morning gallop.
"We prayed he kind of hit himself and that it was a little bit of skin irritation," he told a horde of media gathered outside the detention barn at Belmont Park.
O'Neill had called an audible Friday and taken his horse out to gallop at 5:30 a.m., three hours earlier than he had been working out in the days leading up to the race. He wanted to avoid the congestion created by all the Belmont horses going to the track at the same time.
"I thought he looked great on the track," he said, "and then cooling out, you could tell that swelling was back, and at that point I didn't feel very good."
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