NEW YORK (AP) – The retirement of I’ll Have Another on the eve of the Belmont Stakes is a big hit for the New York Racing Association and NBC.
Both had been hoping for a Triple Crown bonanza.
NYRA, the association that runs Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct, has been under political pressure. Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo replaced the NYRA management following years of scandal and mismanagement.
Earlier in the week, NYRA spokesman Dan Silver estimated the Triple Crown try would draw “100,000, weather permitting.”
It’s hard to predict the impact of I’ll Have Another’s defection on the turnout. While all reserved and box seats are sold out, a good chunk of any Belmont crowd are walk-up general admission customers.
NBC, expecting a substantial ratings bump for the Belmont coverage, was scrambling to digest the news.
“While we are obviously disappointed that our show won’t feature I’ll Have Another going for the elusive Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is still an iconic event on the sports schedule, and the NBC Sports Group broadcasts will treat it as such. We’re working now to adjust the game plan accordingly,” said Adam Freifeld, VP Communications, NBC Sports Group.
TAGG RECALLS: The buildup to I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown try that was derailed Friday brought back memories of 2003 and Funny Cide’s bid for trainer Barclay Tagg.
Not all of them were pleasant.
After winning the Derby and Preakness, Funny Cide, the popular New York bred gelding, had a tough time in the Belmont slop and finished third.
Looking back, Tagg mentioned several things that weren’t in the game plan. He said it was unfortunate that jockey Jose Santos had to return to Louisville, Ky., a week after winning the Derby to defend himself against accusations that he might have carried an illegal electrical charger during the race. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In Funny Cide’s 9 3/4-length win the Preakness, Tagg wasn’t thrilled that Santos used a left-handed whip on the gelding even though they were about 10 lengths ahead of the field in the stretch.
“He was already 10 in front, and he rode him pretty hard down the stretch,” Tagg said.
As for the three weeks leading up to the Belmont, Tagg and Funny Cide were uncomfortable almost all the time. Tagg’s stable is easily accessible, and there was a constant media swarm around his barn every morning.
“There was a tremendous crowd around him because he was popular, and he was a New York-bred and we were in New York,” Tagg said.
A few hundred yards away from his barn earlier this week, he watched the scene surrounding I’ll Have Another.
“I just haven’t seen the same kind of crush this year, particularly around here. There’s a lot of interest and a lot of reporters. There always is when you have a Triple Crown chance.”
But unlike the more relaxed Doug O’Neill and his colt, Tagg and Funny Cide were a bit feistier.
“Funny Cide was a very high strung horse, and wasn’t laid back like Doug O’Neill and his horse,” Tagg said. “Funny Cide was on edge all the time and very hard to keep calm. Every day there was a crush of people around and he’s not a horse that it doesn’t take something out of.”
He believes Funny Cide just couldn’t handle all the hoopla going on around him.
“I don’t think we did anything wrong,” he said. “I think it was a little bit too much for the horse.”