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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Doug O'Neill, trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, has made it official -- the colt will not race in the Belmont Stakes.
O'Neill made the announcement in a news conference which I'll Have Another also attended.
WDRB's Eric Crawford says O'Neill determined that I'll Have Another developed "a little problem in his left front leg." O'Neill said he suspected the start of a problem with a tendon and did not want to risk injuring the colt, who was bidding to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner.
At the news conference, O'Neill called the injury "a freakish thing," and said the horse's health came first. "You could tell that swelling was bad," he said. A doctor immediately did a scan, and that's when the unanimous decision was made among Team O'Neill that I'll Have Another would not run, and would retire from racing.
O'Neill said the horse could compete, but it "would not be in his best interest." He said he did not believe the horse's schedule over the previous five weeks had anything to do with the injury.
As the news conference continued, I'll Have Another grazed in the grass and let people pet him.
I'll Have Another did run early at Belmont Friday morning. He was supposed to hit the track at 8:30, but completed his run much earlier, at 5:30, when a lot of media had not arrived. O'Neill said that was to avoid the crush of other horses and people later on.
Race fan Dave Switzer told WDRB's Rachel Collier, who was getting reaction at Churchill Downs, "I heard the words, but I didn't register them, and I thought, you're kidding, but there's nothing to kid about."
"Everybody had all their eyes on I'll Have Another," said race fan Corey Rabin. "Now we're going to watch Union Rags win the race...I'm absolutely flabbergasted, what an exciting day has transformed into a regular race which is really unfortunate."
Inside the Kentucky Derby Museum, hats, shirts, and buttons are ready for fans to buy. A Triple Crown trophy won by Citation in 1948 is showcased inside the museum. Officials say there is a blank one just like it stored in a vault at the track, and was already sent off to New York, hoping to have I'll Have Another's name engraved in it.
Word of the scratch spread quickly to trainers who were pulling for the colt. "Our industry is looking for a hero in the worst way," said trainer Mike Tomlinson. He says the decision to scratch the horse is the right one, as disappointing as it may be. "A race of that magnitude, it's heartwrenching, it happened to me in 2003 right before the Derby, and I know Mr. O'Neil is terribly terribly disappointed," Tomlinson added.