Imagine if Beethoven had retired after his Fourth Symphony. There would be no Fifth; no Ninth.
Imagine if Hemingway had stopped writing after “The Sun Also Rises.” There would be no “Farewell to Arms;” no “For Whom the Bell Tolls;” no “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Who knows what great accomplishments would have awaited I’ll Have Another, who now flees to Japan, never to be seen again.
On Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner bid farewell to racing and America, his place in history no more than an unfinished symphony, much like Smarty Jones and Majestic Prince and Afleet Alex and Charismatic, and to a lesser extent Big Brown and Point Given – just some of the dual classic winners throughout the years who left an unfulfilled legacy behind with their premature retirements.
There is no right or wrong. The only truth we are aware of is that a brilliant, classy, handsome, courageous horse with the blood of champions coursing through every vein will race no more and will be leaving his place of birth because no one deemed him worthy to pass on his blood in America.
We have no idea what transpired during the two weeks between the Belmont Stakes and announcement that I’ll Have Another was sold to the Japanese. We have no idea how many American breeding farms were approached and made meager offers during those two weeks. We have no idea what the thought process was regarding the decision to retire him just hours after his injury was detected. All anyone knew was that, by the connections’ own admission, they could have run him even with the injury, which was diagnosed as tendonitis. Even though it would not have been a wise move to run the horse, that was not what people wanted to hear.
Those that flocked to Belmont on June 9, not only had to endure the heartbreaking news of the colt’s withdrawal from the third leg of the Triple Crown, they had to watch him walking perfectly sound around the paddock for some 20 minutes before marching into the winner’s circle; a place where most had expected to see him under far different circumstances. Of course, walking sound has no bearing on his injury, but to many in atttendance it was all about perception.
I have known Paul Reddam for a number of years and consider him a friend more than an owner, and know him only as a classy guy who has a penchant for finding top-class horses, winning top-class races, and doing only what is in the best interest of his horses. He is loyal to his trainer, Doug O’Neill, and obviously loyal to his jockey, as evidenced by his keeping the unknown Mario Gutierrez on I’ll Have Another following his 43-1 upset victory in the Robert Lewis Stakes.
All I know is that this was a gut-wrenching and emotional loss for Reddam, and it doesn’t do any good to ponder the extent of the injury or the events that led to the decisions regarding the quick retirement and sale of the horse.
The circumstances surrounding Saturday’s farewell left one with feelings of sadness and frustration, especially seeing this magnificent colt strut around the Hollywood paddock, his mane braided and wearing his familiar Sure-Win bridle as if geared for battle. With Gutierrez aboard and the crowd cheering, I’ll Have Another walked onto the track, his chestnut coat shining like burnished copper. He then was led into the winner’s circle, where he was coiled and on the muscle. The last people saw of him, he was prancing up the stretch on his toes, heading back to his barn. He looked more like a horse about to embark on new racing journeys and new conquests following an historic Triple Crown sweep. This was not the look of a retired horse about to embark on a journey to nowhere, which is where he was heading, as far as American racing fans are concerned.
There should be no animosity toward the Japanese, who are only doing what American breeders did more than half a century ago when industry titans Bull Hancock, John Galbreath, and C.V. Whitney snatched Princequillo, Nasrullah, Ribot, Mahmoud and Sea-Bird away from the Europeans to form the nucleus of today’s American Thoroughbred.
As for Saturday’s sendoff, we’ve been here before, having had to endure a similar scene in 2004 when Smarty Jones bid farewell to his fans at Philadelphia Park on an overcast, muggy afternoon. Children of all ages held up signs saying their goodbyes to the horse who had brought nearly 10,000 people to Philly Park on two occasions during the Triple Crown just to watch him gallop. As tough as it was to see him go, Smarty at least had his shot at immortality and failed, despite turning in one his most gallant performances. I’ll Have Another never got that chance.
For now, the memories of his stretch battles in the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness and his closing bursts in the Kentucky Derby and Robert Lewis will have to suffice. He left us with these indelible moments, and in racing nowadays one has to be thankful for any image of greatness that flashes before us, as fleeting as it may be.
I’ll Have Another and Smarty Jones have something else in common. Both were rejected by American breeders. Smarty was given a chance, albeit a brief one, but breeding in America is about instant gratification and marketability, and soon the top-quality mares stopped coming. Smarty had been a major tourist attraction at Three Chimneys Farm and drew large crowds on a daily basis. But when he failed to make an immediate impact the romance was over, even though he had his share of stakes horses. His owner, Pat Chapman, frustrated and disillusioned, brought Smarty back home to Pennsylvania, shuttling him to Uruguay last fall for six months. I’ll Have Another, unfortunately, was never even given the chance to fail as a stallion.
So, the last we will ever see of I’ll Have Another is the image of him walking off the track, leaving behind a morass of what might have beens. That’s what made this all the more difficult. I will repeat the words I wrote when Smarty Jones made his departure: In the end, the final glimpse of (I’ll Have Another) heading back to his barn for the last time brought with it feelings of deep gratitude and admiration, but also feelings of sadness and emptiness. After all, heroes are supposed to ride off into the sunset, not walk.
Later that afternoon, Quiet Oasis, owned by Paul Reddam and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, won the grade II Royal Heroine Mile. Life goes on.
Thanks for the Memories (Photos by Steve Haskin)
The Journey Begins
First walk around the shed
I'll Have Another and O'Neill
Roses for everyone
One happy groom
Morning after the Preakness
Basking in sun morning after Preakness
Saying goodbye to Belmont fans
Jerry Crawford, Paul Reddam, Ahmed Zayat dominated the Triple Crown