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Belmont buzz breaks down as I’ll Have Another retires

Doug O'Neill I'll Have Another

Doug O'Neill, I'll Have Another

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The 144th Belmont Stakes

The facts: 5:40 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 5. | Distance: 1 1/2 miles.

PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds

1. Street Life Lezcano Brown 12-1

2. Unstoppable U. Alvarado McPeek 30-1

3. Union Rags Velazquez Matz 6-1

4. Atigun Leparoux McPeek 30-1

5. Dullahan Castellano Romans 5-1

6. Ravelo’s Boy Solis Azpurua 50-1

7. Five Sixteen Napravnik Schettino 50-1

8. Guyana Star Dweej Desormeaux Shivmangal 50-1

9. Paynter Smith Baffert 8-1

10. Optimizer Nakatani Lukas 20-1

11. I’ll Have Another SCRATCHED

12. My Adonis Dominguez Breen 20-1

Updated: July 10, 2012 6:09AM

NEW YORK — Bummer.

Belmont Park was prepping for a big ol’ party Saturday, about 100,000 people ready to roll in by the trainloads for a shot at cheering on the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. They would’ve come from the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan to the west, from the sprawling homes of Long Island to the east, from points in between and beyond.

Well, the party’s over — before the horses ever got to the starting gate.

About 30 hours from post time, I’ll Have Another called it a career. An injury to the tendon in his left front leg was the culprit — not that bad, from a pure medical standpoint, but an absolutely crushing blow to the Belmont Stakes and horse racing in general.

‘‘It’s like completely letting the air out of a balloon,’’ said Ken McPeek, the trainer for two other Belmont horses.

The race will go on, of course, but all the joy has been snuffed out.

Who’s going to win?

Who cares?

‘‘I’ll enjoy the racing,’’ said Larry Bramlage, veterinarian for the Belmont Stakes. ‘‘But it won’t be quite as exciting.’’

A chestnut colt was on the cusp of completing one of the most elusive feats in sports. There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed. In the 34 years since, a dozen horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Eleven of them lost at the Belmont — perhaps because of a jockey’s blunder, or maybe a freak injury in the middle of the race. Sometimes, another horse was just better.

But never like this.

‘‘I really wanted him to compete,’’ said Dale Romans, the trainer for newly installed Belmont favorite Dullahan. ‘‘This was going to be a special race, one of the biggest races of our time.’’

There are losers galore. There undoubtedly will be a much smaller crowd for the Belmont’s biggest event. NBC’s ratings are sure to take a huge hit after running strong through the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Horse racing missed out on a chance to boost its battered reputation and grim bottom line, which has been under siege for years from slot machines and blackjack tables.

‘‘It’s just a really sad day in our industry,’’ said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of 2006 Belmont winner Jazil.

Conspiracy theories began to swirl immediately on the Internet — I’ll Have Another had been pulled from the race because of a doping violation, a graceful way to bow out instead of being humiliated by a failed drug test. After all, this was a colt trained by Doug O’Neill, someone dubiously nicknamed ‘‘Drug’’ O’Neill. His horses have been nailed four times for elevated levels of total carbon dioxide, believed to reduce fatigue.

Neither I’ll Have Another nor any other Belmont horse failed a test, but O’Neill will begin serving a 45-day suspension for his latest violation in a few weeks.


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