AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
I'll Have Another will not have a shot at the Triple Crown. His trainer noticed inflammation in the horse's leg, so the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness will not race in tomorrow's Belmont Stakes. In fact, he's being retired from racing altogether.
NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now. And, Mike, what more have you learned about this injury?
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, we don't know much more because I think the horse's connections don't know much more. They noticed something. Trainer Doug O'Neill noticed a little something on his leg on Thursday. He was cautious. It seemed fine this morning. Took him out very lightly. That something returned. They had the vet look at it and he said it was tendonitis and you have to be very cautious with these animals and you have to be very cautious in this era.
Doug O'Neill himself is under scrutiny. He faces a suspension from California racing. Whenever that appeal gets settled. And if something were to happen to I'll Have Another, the reaction just wouldn't be sadness, it would be outrage. Under these conditions, Doug O'Neill did the absolute right thing in withdrawing him from the race.
CORNISH: So this is the move to retire him versus giving him rehab, then?
PESCA: Well, yes. Then, there's the other question. Sure. This horse probably could be rehabbed in a few months, but the real money in horse racing is stud fees. And what usually happens is, after a horse wins even any leg of one these Triple Crown races, maybe they run him the next year, maybe they run him in a couple more races, like a Breeder's Cup race, but then they retire a horse out to stud. A horse like I'll Have Another could make $25,000, $30,000 every time he engages in his services and some horses have made much, much more at stud than they have racing. So it was not really a hard decision business-wise or ethically for this animal.
CORNISH: We hear a lot about the scheduling of the Triple Crown races three and five weeks. Did that play a factor here?
PESCA: You know, Doug O'Neill was asked this very question and what is interesting about his answer - and we'll play it in a second - is that - well, you'll hear. He says no, but then listen to his explanation.
DOUG O'NEILL: I'd say no. You know, no. He's been doing great. It's just a freakish thing and, you know, I think when you got a human or an equine athlete, when you give 110 percent every time you step in the court or run the track, you know, you're suspect to injury.
PESCA: And, of course, he meant subject to injury, but what he's saying there is that, through frequent use, you increase the odds of getting hurt. So the answer - what he was really saying is yes. I mean, you don't want to say that it's dangerous for these animals, but over a 100-year history of the Triple Crown races, horse breeding in America has gone from emphasizing stamina to emphasizing speed. And with the emphasis of speed, the schedule of the Triple Crown race - three races in 35 days - is very unusual for these horses.
Usually, they would get 30 days between starts, so yeah. Of course, it takes its toll. It's no one's fault. It's how the schedule is, but I don't see how you could argue that the fact that he raced heavy in the Preakness and the Derby didn't have some effect on the tendonitis we're seeing today.
CORNISH: So, Mike, without I'll Have Another, how's the field look at Belmont tomorrow?
PESCA: Well, it'll still be a great race, of course, and I would look to a horse called Union Rags, who was in the Derby. He didn't get a good ride. There are some that say Union Rags, which has a lot of speed, seems to always not get a good ride, seems to get bottled up, but maybe in this lighter field at this huge track, Union Rags has a shot.
Another horse called Dullahan. he finished third in the Derby. He has a shot, too. They all have a shot. A hundred thousand people won't be showing up at Belmont. It'll be closer to 50. But it's still history and it's still a great day of racing.
CORNISH: NPR's sports correspondent, Mike Pesca. Mike, thank you.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.