The decision to scratch I'll Have Another from the Belmont Stakes is a disappointment for fans in the Southland, where the Triple Crown contender is based. Betfair Hollywood Park and Santa Anita have planned major promotions for the event.
The withdrawal of I'll Have Another from Saturday's Belmont Stakes is reverberating throughout the horse racing community, particularly in Southern California.
"It's very disappointing for horse racing but shows how fragile our stars are," said Jack Liebau, president of Betfair Hollywood Park. "We were anticipating a big day. We were publicizing it. We had 10,000 shot glasses to give away."
I'll Have Another was based at the Inglewood track. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, lives in Santa Monica. His owner, J. Paul Reddam, got a doctorate from USC and has been a big supporter of local racing.
In New York, I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont because of what O'Neill said was a swollen tendon in the horse's left leg. He was trying to become the first horse in 34 years — since Affirmed in 1978 — to win the Triple Crown.
All week, Hollywood Park was gearing up with promotions, newspaper advertisements and giveaways planned for Saturday. "Root on Our Hometown Hero in the Belmont" was the headline in a full-page advertisement by Hollywood Park in Friday's Los Angeles Times.
At Santa Anita, the FrontRunner restaurant was sold out for Saturday even though there's no racing at the Arcadia track. A planned promotion featuring a buffet lunch, souvenir glasses and T-shirts honoring I'll Have Another — with a chance to watch the Belmont on TV — was expected to attract lots of fans. The buffet is still on for Saturday, but the memorabilia has been scrapped.
Liebau said he was expecting a crowd of 15,000 for Hollywood Park's 11-race card. Now he said the track will substantially reduce the number of employees needed to work.
"It's just very disappointing because you want to see a Triple Crown winner," trainer John Sadler said. "But we know how hard it is. It's extremely hard to do. I don't think anybody is shocked."
O'Neill said I'll Have Another was facing a three- to six-month rehabilitation, so instead the horse will retire from racing.
I'll Have Another, a 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Flower Alley, was purchased by Reddam for $35,000 at the Ocala (Fla.) 2-year-olds-in-training spring sales in 2011. He won four consecutive races this year, starting with the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 4, followed by the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness Stakes on May 19.
More than 14,000 had "liked" the I'll Have Another Facebook page. It was the most excitement local racing fans had shown for a horse since Zenyatta, the John Shirreffs-trained mare who won 19 of 20 races and was named the horse of the year in 2010.
"They're 1,200, 1,300 pounds and landing one foot at a time," Shirreffs said. "What thoroughbreds do is amazing. We were just blessed with Zenyatta. She was unique."
Trainers said they understood the predicament faced by O'Neill, who made the call to scratch I'll Have Another. A light race schedule supposedly had prepared the horse for the challenge of racing three times in a little more than month.
"Any horse can get hurt on any given day," Sadler said. "There's no guarantees. This is an example of that. The bright side is that it was picked up pre-race. It could have been worse. It's a tough pill to swallow. He was a great representative for California."
Said trainer Ron Ellis: "Everybody is kind of waiting for somebody to break that streak of not being able to win the Triple Crown. It's what makes it so tough to accomplish. Everything, in capital letters, has to go right. … We'll have one, one day."
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