With the Preakness wrapping up and the heavy, heavy favorite, California Chrome coming across the wire first, we're back to a serious Triple Crown possibility...just like we were two-years ago. Again, there's controversy brewing. Thankfully, it's become more of a joke this time. California Chrome, who was rumored to possibly not run the Preakness due to a sinus infection, or nasal flare ups, or something nose related, ran anyway, with nasal strips, and won. For all of 24 hours it was looking like that race might have cost him a chance at the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
The New York Racing Association announced that it will now allow horses to compete with nasal strips, rendering California Chrome able to run in the Belmont. Now, with that bit of special treatment out of the way another horse has the chance to win the Triple Crown.
Don't get me wrong. It's exciting to have and good for the sport. But it hasn't happened since Affirmed won all three legs back in 1978. Before Affirmed, Seattle Slew in 1977. Before Seattle Slew, Secretariat in 1973. And before Secretariat, well, you have to go all the way back to 1948 and Citation. Outside of the onslaught of Triple Crown winners in the 70's it's pretty clear that winning this thing is a pretty rare event—since the end of World War II 5 horses have won this (Assault won it in 1946), and not one since 1978. A few have come close, Charismatic took the first two legs, as did Big Brown—thank the horse racing Gods that Big Brown did not win the Belmont and read this fantastic article if you want to know why.
Just two years ago (2012), out of nowhere, a horse named I'll Have Another raced to victory in the Kentucky Derby. It's easy to get excited about the Derby winner, which explains why he or she is usually, though not always, one of the favorites to win the Preakness. And that's generally a stupid thing. Aside from a few horses that truly out-classed and out-ran the field in the Derby it's probably one of the worst races to indicate future success or failure. Look no further than 2009 winner Mine That Bird if you don't believe me (Won the Derby, 2nd in The Preakness, 3rd at Belmont, 3rd at West Virginia and 9th in the Breeder's Cup Classic—a race he had no business even racing—and then he never even raced again. Also, all told, Mine That Bird won five of 18 career starts and didn't even run a race in his 4th year).
In the 2012 Kentucky Derby, I'll Have Another went off at 15-1, a decent enough price, but not so staggered in either direction to really draw much attention in racing's highest profile race. Yet, come along the homestretch, just as the horses hit the quarter pole, I'll Have Another starts moving up, first bit-by-bit, then he ultimately tracks down and passes Bodemeister. Unbelieveable.
Anyway, I'll Have Another goes off at 3-1 at the Preakness with Bodemeister at 8-5. And shockingly I'll Have Another wins. Again, he tracks down and passes Bodemeister. Seriously, it's shocking, watch this race:
Bodemeister is a real ass horse—took second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness to I'll Have Another and was the only 3 year-old that year to post four triple-digit Beyers (which means he was way faster over the course of his 3 year-old campaign than any other horse, and of course, you have to throw out my earlier comments about the Derby as one has to make exceptions).
Going into the 2012 Preakness I honestly did not think I'll Have Another had any chance at winning and until he actually won I didn't think he'd pull it off. Bodemeister is just too damn good a horse. But that made two times I'll Have Another found an extra gear that Bodemeister didn't have. After the Preakness, I was officially on board with this horse. Prior to that I was reluctant as hell to take him seriously, but his run in the Preakness convinced me that I was wrong. I'll Have Another was for real and the Belmont was only a few weeks away.
Stories lines often write themselves in sports when an unexpected athlete, team, etc., has the chance to do something historic. I'll Have Another's bid to win the Triple Crown was no exception. The horse racing world was excited, as well it should be. Finally after 34 years there'd be a Triple Crown winner and this tired debate, found here, here, and everywhere could come to an end. This would be okay with quite a few folks.
Anyway, the story line that came to rise to the top of I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid was the one story line nobody wanted to hear. The horses trainer, Doug O'Neill (now affectionately known as Drug O'Neill), was caught up in a horse drugging scandal. Oops, Doug. How's that for bad timing?
Drug O'Neill has been nailed for as few as four and as many as 15 drug violations throughout his career (which the Horse Racing industry calls 'medication violations;' more confusing still is the discrepancy between four and 15 violations. Could be the number of violations versus the number or horses? I really don't know. Any insight on this, please let me know down below). He's also known for his proclivity to milkshake horses, which you can read all about here if you're interested, but the long and short of it is that it is illegal and not good for horses. In 2012, O'Neill was busted again, kind of. His horses were found to have high levels of carbon dioxide due to 'milkshaking,' but there was no way to tie him to this directly. Because of this, instead of the normal 180 day ban this would place on O'Neill, he was only banned for 45 days, cited only for being irresponsible in the overseeing of his horses care, not for actually drugging them. Furthermore, this ban would not affect O'Neill or any of his horses until July 1st 2012, or more importantly after the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, meaning I'll Have Another could still race for the glory of it all.
Thank God for desperation and the want of the Triple Crown. But thank God even more for whatever the hell happened next.
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) put into place what has come to be known as the 'O'Neill Rules.' Basically, security measures on the horses were taken to an extreme degree. Under these rules the NYRA created a 'detention barn' where they would place the horses three days prior to the Belmont Stakes to prevent any illegal drugging of the horses.
What happens next is still all a matter of speculation. After I'll Have Another made its way into the 'detention barn,' the requisite three days prior to the race, it made an unexpected exit out of the barn two days later. Yup. Just a day before he had a chance to capture the long-coveted Triple Crown. O'Neill said it was because of a tendon injury, one that would take at least 3-6 months to recover from. Apparently it never did heal as I'll Have Another never raced again. Or maybe, J. Paul Reddam, owner of I'll Have Another just decided he should sell the damn thing as it stood no chance of competing if Druggie O'Neill couldn't work his magic. He'd already won a few million on this horse, and whatever stud fee he was looking for was already set pretty high. A poor showing in the Belmont would only drop the stock on I'll Have Another. Why not get out and really milk this horse for every last penny while you still can? Seems the way we do things in America. Historically. Strange thing is the highest offer Reddam received on his pony from American buyers was 3 million dollars. So he sold it overseas for a reported 10 million dollars. Now that's real America there.
How much of that last part is true? Nobody really knows. Or at least only a few people do. I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont and he was sold to a Japanese stable. Outside of that, well, you're free to make your own judgments.
So all this fuss about nasal strips...
California Chrome has been running and winning with his nasal strips. NYRA rules state that horses cannot run with nasal strips, but it's pretty common practice in just about every state. Heck, even elite human being Meb Keflezighi wears them. Oh, and for what it's worth, I'll Have Another wore them in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. So yes, there's been a fuss over nasal strips, but like I said, it's more a joke than anything else. The NYRA changed a rule about a piece of tape so a particular horse could run. So what. California Chrome racing in the Belmont is good for California Chrome, it's good for horse racing, and it's good for horse bettors. Nobody loses here. If this is the biggest scandal in California Chrome's already half-written screenplay, heck, I'll take another dozen horses with nasal strips before I'll take one more story like I'll Have Another and Doug O'Neill.