Doug O'Neill made the decision to retire I'll Have Another on the eve of the Belmont Stakes.
There couldn't be more crushing news for everyone involved. The millions of horse racing enthusiasts who planned to bet on or at least tune into the race today to potentially witness history are devastated.
A dreary cloud has been cast over the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
The horse that won this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness in exciting, underdog fashion was removed from the final leg of the Triple Crown due to a tendon injury in his left front leg.
How does this bold yet cautious move affect Doug O'Neill's legacy?
To begin, O'Neill was on the verge of legendary status, obviously, with I'll Have Another a win away from capturing the first Triple Crown since 1978. However, he wasn't held in high regard by other trainers and horse racing devotees.
FoxSports.com's Dan Wolken crafted a column discussing O'Neill and made a few keen points on his reputation in the horse racing world:
"If I owned a racehorse, would I want O’Neill to train it? Not if I cared about the safety of the animal and playing by the rules."
He goes on to talk about the accusation that O'Neill has pushed the envelope in terms of safety and training regulations. Remember, O'Neill was recently the subject of an investigation by the California Horse Racing Board.
O’Neill is facing a possible 180-day suspension from training in California for an August 2010 incident in which one of his horses tested positive for a performance-enhancing formula known as a “milkshake,” which raises the level of carbon dioxide in the blood through a combination of baking soda and electrolytes. It is administered through a tube stuffed down the horse’s nose, and it is strictly illegal.
Wolken goes on to report that O'Neill has had horses test positive for the "milkshake" three other times since 2005.
According to a New York Times study, as reported by Wolken, O’Neill’s horses either broke down or suffered injuries at a rate of 12 per 1,000 starts—more than twice the national average of just above five per 1,000 starts.
Yet another injury, this time to one of his horses in the biggest spotlight of the sport, would seem to further condemn O'Neill.
An initial report form Brian Beckner of Yahoo! Sports stated I'll Have Another had already torn a tendon in his leg, but during the official press conference, O'Neill confirmed the horse was simply suffering through severe tendonitis that swelled his leg the two most recent times on the track.
While this all certainly doesn't ameliorate O'Neill's image or reputation, the fact that he chose to retire the horse before catastrophic damage was done in what could have been a horrific scene during the race today, he must be applauded.
Still, his name remains synonymous with devious training and injured horses.