The sporting world has been focused on New York for several months now – and until recently, it was all bad. A series in the New York Times blasted horse racing using what some would call “selective inclusion” of injury data for its analysis. A harness racing trainer was suspended indefinitely for drugging horses in nearly 700 races over the past two years. The embattled New York Racing Association is now under the control of a board appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after some rather serious missteps. And just recently, talks with Genting (operator of the Resorts World casino at Aqueduct) about a massive convention center at the track site fell through, and a labor union is threatening to call a strike at Belmont Park beginning Friday, putting New York's biggest racing weekend of the year in jeopardy.
All this means nothing to a chestnut horse named I’ll Have Another, who has done his best to provide shining relief in the face of all the bad news. He arrived in New York last month a potential hero – a horse that would try to win the Triple Crown, horse racing’s most elusive prize. I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby with a strong stretch run, then used similar tactics to wear down the front-runner at the end of the Preakness Stakes.
He cares nothing that his California-based trainer has been controversial – enough perhaps that the New York Racing & Wagering Board (not NYRA, as many assumed) saw fit to isolate all Belmont Stakes horses in a special barn for three days prior to Saturday’s race. Would such measures have been taken if I’ll Have Another had been in someone else’s barn?
Some would say that the special treatment for this year’s Belmont runners is a good thing for the integrity of the sport, others would say it’s an unnecessary disruption for horses that thrive on routine and that other measures could have proven just as effective. Still others wonder why Belmont Stakes horses are the only ones subjected to such scrutiny – shouldn’t every single runner in every single race be treated in such a fashion to protect the betting public?
I will say one thing. Trainer Doug O’Neill has been most gracious while he has been under the New York microscope. He has not spoken publicly against the new security procedures and in fact welcomed the opportunity to prove that everyone is operating fairly and honestly. Like any trainer, he would rather have not altered his horse’s routine – after all, I’ll Have Another was sent to Belmont the day after the Preakness to get comfortable in his new surroundings long before the epic run toward history. But O’Neill understands the circumstances that have brought about the extraordinary measures, and like everyone else he will deal with them.
After watching I’ll Have Another train over the past ten days, I think he’s ready to make his run no matter what controversy swirls around him. And if he manages to succeed where many others have failed, he will wear the Triple Crown with honor.