Those of us who have been waiting 34 years to see another Triple Crown champion will have to wait a little longer following Friday’s scratch of I’ll Have Another because of a swollen left front tendon. It’s another cruel blow to a sport that desperately could use some positive publicity.
I’ll Have Another was seeking to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. A victory by the colt would have ended a lengthy string of near-misses by horses who had won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes but fell short in the grueling 1½-mile Belmont.
The 1970s gave us three Triple Crown winners — the incomparable Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. I still find myself going on YouTube and watching some of those great races, especially Secretariat’s 31-length Belmont romp and Affirmed’s Triple Crown-clinching thriller over Alydar.
I had been trying to temper my enthusiasm for Saturday’s race because we had come to this point so many times before. But that Triple Crown seemed like a real possibility with I’ll Have Another, who seemed to be gaining momentum with each race.
Eleven times since 1978 there has been a chance for a Triple Crown winner, and 11 times that horse has come up short.
Remember these past Belmont Stakes disappointments:
1979 — Spectacular Bid appeared set to make it three Triple Crown winners in a row, but faded to third behind Coastal. A freak accident the morning of the race — Spectacular Bid had stepped on a safety pin — proved to be an omen of future Triple Crown misfortune.
1981 — Pleasant Colony ran third behind Summing, though the colt went on to become a notable sire by producing 73 stakes-race winners.
1987 — Alysheba, trained by Nebraska native Jack Van Berg, finished fourth behind Bet Twice. The son of Alydar raced without the medication Lasix, prohibited at the time in New York racing.
1989 — Sunday Silence defeated Easy Goer in the Derby and the Preakness but was unable to repeat that feat in the Belmont, losing to his East Coast rival by eight lengths. The race was run in 2:26, the second-fastest Belmont (trailing only Secretariat’s record time of 2:24).
1997 — Silver Charm put away rival Free House in the stretch but Touch Gold, which trailed by 10 lengths at the top of the stretch, rallied for the half-length victory. A tough loss for trainer Bob Baffert, who would get another chance the next year.
1998 — Real Quiet carried Baffert’s hopes that year, and with one furlong left in the Belmont it seemed as though the 20-year drought would come to an end. But Victory Gallop got up in the closing stride to win by a nose, breaking Baffert’s heart and the hearts of millions of fans.
1999 — Charismatic gave us a Triple Crown chance for the third straight year, but Lemon Drop Kid grabbed the lead in the deep stretch to deny the colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Jockey Chris Antley dramatically jumped off Charismatic after the wire and held up the colt’s left front leg, and further examination showed the leg had been broken in two places.
2002 — The front-running War Emblem, trained by Baffert, stumbled badly at the start of the race and finished eighth behind 70-1 long shot Sarava.
2003 — New Yorkers flocked to the Belmont racetrack in record numbers to watch the New York-bred Funny Cide, but not even home-field advantage could help. The gelding finished third in the mud behind Empire Maker.
2004 — A third consecutive Triple Crown possibility ended when Smarty Jones, who had won the Preakness by 11½ lengths, suffered his first career defeat against 36-1 long shot Birdstone.
2008 — Last-place Big Brown was pulled up in the stretch by jockey Kent Desormeaux, who said later he sensed something wasn’t right with the colt. Big Brown, who lost the race to Da’Tara, had experienced a hoof problem after the Preakness and it was speculated later that a loose horseshoe also might have added to his Belmont woes.
Now you can add 2012 and I’ll Have Another to the list. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt seemed to have the grittiness to perhaps end the streak, but now we’ll never know.
It’s too bad because the sport of kings could definitely use a shot in the arm that a Triple Crown winner would provide. Even rival trainer Dale Romans, who will saddle Dullahan in the Belmont, called Friday’s late-breaking news “devastating.”
Disappointed owner J. Paul Reddam said simply that “history is going to have to wait for another day.”
I’ll Have Another, named in honor of Reddam’s penchant for his wife’s cookies, won’t win the Triple Crown. But as the old adage goes, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
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