I was working on a preview of Belmont horses, actually doing some real research into their lineages and race histories to mix in with some completely random facts and assumptions. I started this two weeks ago in preparation for tomorrow’s race and earlier today when I went to the Belmont website I was greeted by news on the Twitter feed that I’ll Have Another is out of the race with a bad leg.
The rest of the website still had articles posted about the horse and his trainer and their quest for Triple Crown glory. Thanks to the little blue bird of digital brevity, the news scrolled by in real time, one after another. I’ll Have Another is out of the race. Maybe if I was on Facebook, someone would have R.I.P.’d the 2012 Triple Crown. But yeah that’s the world we live in, everyone wants to be the first to deliver the bad news. I was in a store an hour later and the radio played an ad by Ticketmaster promoting the race and potential for Triple Crown glory, but it isn’t meant to be.
It definitely took the energy out of me. I was looking forward to going and feeling the atmosphere of watching a horse attempt the Triple Crown. Sure there’s lots of other races too, and the Belmont Stakes will still happen. I was just hoping to see it with a horse that had a shot to win it all. I’m just no longer excited to go. Funny thing was, I wanted to go and bet on a longshot. That way, one of two horses could win and I would be excited.
There was talk of trainer Doug O’Neill being dirty, with issues surrounding I’ll Have Another’s blood test and a term referred to as milkshaking. It seems vaguely similar to steroids and the issues surrounding baseball. Perhaps the final verdict was bestowed by the Horse Racing Gods. Sometimes, you can flaunt the rules of sports but the traditions, superstitions, and unspoken codes have ways of showing up at key times. That’s why you never talk about a no hitter in baseball. Don’t play not to lose when you’re winning in football, that’s how teams come back. And never, ever cheat. You may get away with it for a while, but when you get caught, it brings everything you’ve ever done into question.
The New England Patriots were caught taping their opponents sidelines, and not only punished by the NFL, they were punished by the Football Gods. They haven’t won a Super Bowl since then, and even more painful for them and their fans, they were on their way to an undefeated season, when they lost in the Super Bowl. That year the Giants were a wild card team that were barely hanging on, and when they met the Patriots in the final regular season game, the Giants played all their starters, while the Patriots rested many of theirs and enjoyed a bye week right after. The Giants kept their momentum going and when the two teams met again in the championship game, the signature play was an Eli Manning scramble for an improbable escape to make a pass to David Tyree who was responsible for the “helmet catch” to keep the drive alive. Ridiculous? Yes! When you’re a receiver you run lots of drills over the course of a lifetime trying to catch footballs. Sometimes, you’re not in the right position but you get one hand up and reach, or dive, do whatever it takes, and when your skills are good and the Gods are smiling upon you sometimes it all comes together perfectly. David Tyree was out of the league the next year, but he is part of Super Bowl legend now. And he helped keep the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only perfect team in NFL history.
Am I saying Doug O’Neill and I’ll Have Another cheated? No. I don’t know enough about milkshaking or horse racing to make strong statements like that. It just wasn’t in the cards and it is now 34 years of no Triple Crown winners. So Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat; pop a cork on some Dom Perignon and celebrate. You’re in rare company.