Decision on I'll Have Another made a lot of horse sense
Horse racing can't dodge skepticism even when it does the right thing.
Seemingly forever, stories about the sport have had both an honesty-and-integrity side and a cheating-and-lying side. Fans are stuck in the middle, left to determine for themselves what's what.
Some critics always will assert that every other race is fixed, every other horse is drugged, and every other horseman is crooked. They'll also perceive that every other right is wrong.
Such was the case the past few days when I'll Have Another was removed from the field for the Belmont Stakes because of an injured left front leg.
Soon after the horse's chance to win the Triple Crown and racing career both ended, Associated Press reported that speculation circulated on the Internet that a doping violation forced him out and he would have failed a drug test anyway.
Maybe this was natural chatter considering that I'll Have Another trainer Doug O'Neill ó Drug O'Neill to some ó soon will serve a suspension for the latest of his several violations of racing's drug policy.
Then again, maybe emotion spoke because so many sports fans wanted to blame somebody for depriving them of watching a horse pursue the Triple Crown.
My first reaction to the news was that this is at once bad for horse racing and good for horse racing.
Bad: This struggling sport lost an opportunity to attract fans.
I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, giving him a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
"It would have been one of the biggest P.R. events for the racing industry," Arlington Park general manager Tony Petrillo said Saturday morning.
Good: Scratching and retiring I'll Have Another demonstrated compassion for the horse at a time when racing has been dogged by doping scandals and by horses breaking down on the track.
"A good trainer," Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois said, "won't put a horse out there at less than 100 percent."
My inclination is to believe the I'll Have Another matter reinforces that notion and that his people did what was right for him, and for the right reasons.
Maybe that's naive because these days in any sport, not just horse racing, the game of whom do you trust is prevalent.
Baseball had its steroids mess. Pro football has its bounty mess. Hockey has its headhunting mess. European soccer has its racism mess. College sports are one big mess.
Why should horse racing be mess free?
Racing does have some unscrupulous owners and trainers who will abuse their horses for financial considerations.
Some might even deprive a horse of a chance to win the Triple Crown because of financial considerations like, say, his potential as a stud.
"I don't think finances had one thing to do with it," Duchossois said of the I'll Have Another decision. "That was done for the welfare of the horse."
Most horsemen I meet love their horses and try to protect them. Meanwhile, horse racing might be America's most regulated sport.
But it's competitive. Some handlers will stray to the dark side, giving skeptics reason to generally, and likely unfairly, believe even the right thing was done for the wrong reasons.
"Could (I'll Have Another) have run today?" prominent Arlington trainer Chris Block said Saturday. "Possibly. But it was too big of a risk. They did what was right for the horse."
Sorry, skeptics, but I believe that.
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