Losing the biggest star in any sport is going to change the way the audience views it. With a niche crowd, like horse racing has, and a thoroughbred going for a Triple Crown, like I'll Have Another was, mainstream interest is not something that is going to drive the sport.
I'll Have Another's career came to a tragic end on Friday morning, when it was announced by his trainer, Doug O'Neill, that, due to tendonitis in his leg, he would not be able to run in the Belmont Stakes, and that they didn't want to risk serious long-term damage by pushing him further.
Once the initial shock of losing I'll Have Another wore off, everyone started wondering what was going to happen to horse racing as a result of this injury. It was a natural reaction, because the anticipation for the 2012 Belmont Stakes was as high as it has been for any horse race in years.
Every year we wonder whether there will be a Triple Crown winner for the first time since 1978. All the questions get asked even before the Kentucky Derby is finished; it is out of control because all fans are desperate to see the streak broken.
Yet listening to all the chatter around I'll Have Another's absence, you would think this was the end of horse racing as we know it. Here is an excerpt of an article from the New York Daily News about the expected television ratings now:
For NBC Sports suits, it would not have mattered if I’ll Have Another had lost in his bid for Triple Crown immortality. It mattered only that the horse break from the starting gate. That would’ve meant big-time TV ratings, which are great for business. Now, with I’ll Have Another scratched from the Belmont, and no Triple Crown at stake, the audience for Saturday’s telecast will be significantly down. NBC, which has 200 people working the race, will take a major ratings hit.
Here is the thing that everyone seems to be forgetting: Horse racing has been around a long, long time. It is one of the oldest sports in this country, and the number of people who pay close attention to it have kept it going this long.
Losing the biggest story of the year in sports thus far does put a dent in the mainstream popularity of this year's Belmont Stakes, but the idea that horse racing is somehow in trouble without I'll Have Another is laughable.
If you want to watch the Belmont Stakes, do it for the joy of the sport. If you don't want to watch the sport because I'll Have Another is out, the sport will find a way to carry on without you.