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Other trainers sympathized 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. That’s what I’ve always said, it’s not a Triple Crown, it’s a five- or six-race series."
The field for Saturday’s 144th Belmont Stakes, with post position, horse’s name, jockey’s name and odds:
1. Street Life J.Lezcano 8-1
2. Unstoppable U J.Alvarado 20-1
3. Union Rags J.Velazquez 3-1
4. Atigun J.Leparoux 15-1
5. Dullahan J.Castellano 9-5
6. Ravelo’s Boy A.Solis 30-1
7. Five Sixteen R.Napravnik 30-1
8. Guyana Star Dweej K.Desormeaux 30-1
9. Paynter M.Smith 7-2
10. Optimizer C.Nakatani 15-1
12. My Adonis R.Dominguez 15-1
Belmont StakesSaturday, 4:30 p.m. post time, TV » Ch. 5
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."
I’ll Have Another came out of a losing effort in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September with shin problems and took the rest of the year off.
He returned to racing in February, and won the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, putting the colt firmly on the Triple Crown trail.
O’Neill and Reddam immediately gave the colt two months off leading up to the Santa Anita Derby, which he won by a nose on April 12.
He followed with victories in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness two weeks later to set up the highly anticipated Belmont Stakes and a try for the Triple Crown.
But the tough 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes isn’t called the "Test of the Champion" for nothing. Given the slightest hint of a problem, the colt’s connections withdrew him rather than risk further injury for a shot at making history.
"It’s devastating. I thought this was going to be one of the greatest races in history, and I wanted the opportunity to be part of it," said Dale Romans, trainer of second favorite Dullahan. "But this is bigger than that. This is terrible news."
Actually, not much has gone right for Team O’Neill, starting with the day after I’ll Have Another’s thrilling win in the Preakness.
On his van ride to New York, the trip was delayed several hours because of traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. A few days later, O’Neill was suspended 45 days and fined $15,000 by the California Horse Racing Board for a medication violation. His suspension is to begin after the Belmont.
Then, racing stewards said that for the Belmont, I’ll Have Another could have to go without the nasal strip he wore in races this year, and exercise rider Jonny Garcia had visas problems and had to be replaced for several days.
The scariest thing was a near collision with a loose horse on the track last week, prompting racing officials to establish a special window of time for Belmont Stakes horses to be on the track.
Then there was the detention barn, ordered by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for all the Belmont Stakes horses. It was a security measure, the board said, but the decision angered some trainers, who said moving their horses might affect their performances.
The story of I’ll Have Another began at Brookdale Farm, 500 acres of Bluegrass in Versailles, Ky. That’s where the stallion Flower Alley was bred to Harvey Clarke’s mare Arch’s Gal Edith.
Flower Alley won the 2005 Travers Stakes and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His father was Distorted Humor, who produced 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. On I’ll Have Another’s mother’s side, there is a long line of horses with speed and stamina, an asset when it comes to the 1½-mile Belmont. Not regal bloodlines, but there was potential.
Upon arrival at the 2010 Keeneland November Yearling Sale, Victor Davila — who works for Eiasman Equine training center in Williston, Fla. — gave himself a $10,000 budget, but overspent by $1,000 on the colt. He liked the way the chestnut yearling moved, and after having turned profits on several previous purchases, figured the investment was worth it.
He saddled and broke the horse at his house, and then brought it to the Eiasman’s training center.
"I don’t think anyone at that time in life recognized he would be vying for a Triple Crown," said Barry Eiasman, who runs the center with his wife, Shari. "His basic skills were good. He was like a good junior high school player. But he also had that one special aspect — a gusto for the sport — and he really was a nice runner."
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