ELMONT, NY June 9, 2012‑‑‑‑‑ At the 2008 Derby, filly Eight Belles fell after crossing the finish line, fracturing both front ankles badly, and was euthanized there on the track, a hastily erected barrier obscuring her fate from the paying fans.
And sportswriter Sally Jenkins probably said it best: “She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles…thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it.” Not that it did any good, today’s thoroughbreds are bred with the same heavy bodies and the same dainty legs and ankles that they were 4 (or 40) years ago.
Question – who won the Derby that year? The average person, even the average racing fan, does not remember that it was Big Brown –attention has remained for all time on the fatal end to Eight Belle’s racing career.
Fast forward to the 2012 Belmont Stakes. It really does not matter who the winner is, no matter how fast he runs, or who he passes, or how many lengths he wins by. All that people will remember for many years, is that I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before, due to a tendon injury to his left foreleg. It’s just the way that racing goes.
I’ll Have Another went out for an early morning gallop yesterday, about 5:30 a.m. – an earlier than usual hour for the bay colt. Owner and trainer wanted to assure themselves that he had settled into the special sequestered barn well, that he was ready for the race ahead. And when he came back, they noted some swelling on his left front leg.
The vet was called in and a CAT scan (or horse scan) was taken which showed the slightly swollen tendon. One talking head described the tendon as like a woven metal cable, with one of its threads beginning to come loose, which weakens the overall tendon. Basically that’s what happened to Another – and further walking or racing on the tendon would apparently exacerbate it and worsen the condition.
In a human athlete with tendonitis, the regimen is a good period of rest to the affected area, then he or she can return to the sport. With a horse, it’s slightly different. First, the animal cannot rest from a weight-bearing leg part for any extended period of time. The experts with Barbaro found that out, no matter how skilled the recovery facility is. The inactivity breeds laminitis, which is usually fatal.
Also with a racing horse, the gutsy three-year-old soon becomes a four-year-old. His racing classification changes and he cannot go back with his peers. And so the decision was made by owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill, I’ll Have Another was to be retired to stud.
So the Belmont will go off today, a field of 11 will be on the track, and the favorite has suddenly shifted. It will be Union Rags or Dullahan most likely, ladies will vote for Five Sixteen with its lady jockey, Rosie Napravik, and bets will be scattered among the other horses who make the race.
The one person who had the most difficulty understanding what was going on today was jockey Mario Gutierrez. When he was told that his horse was being taken out of the race, he looked puzzled and asked, “So I don’t ride tomorrow??” He’ll have another ride, no doubt, but the synergy between him and I’ll Have Another is hard to duplicate.
And for everyone else, it’s back to work as usual. I’m betting that the bay colt will be confused too, absent the constant visitors and press attention, he’ll be standing in a barn while the others make the run around the track. And that is sad.
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