Before we begin, let's just get a few things straight.
Fact 1: Horse racing is a dangerous sport. [Duh.]
Fact 2: Like with any sport, or just life in general, accidents happen. [Am I really having to spell this out?]
Fact 3: Doug O'Neill's track record with breakdowns and racing infractions is less than stellar. [How many times have we heard this in the past several weeks?]
Fact 4: The sky is blue. [Just checking to make sure you were paying attention.]
Fact 5: O'Neill has been under tons of scrutiny during I'll Have Another's Triple Crown campagin. [Flashback to 2008.]
Fact 6: O'Neill was suspended for 45 days even though the CHRB ruled that he had done nothing wrong. [Rules are rules after all.]
Fact 7: The general consensus was that the "Stakes Barn" was a bad idea and that the group that came up with the idea did not have the horses in mind. [Anytime changes occur so close to event time, chaos will ensue.]
Fact 8: After coming out of a workout with a loss of definition to his left foreleg, I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes and subsequently retired. [And the drought continues. Will we ever see another Triple Crown winner?]
*Pause for dramatic effect*
Now that we are up to speed, we can move on.
Keeping all of the above in mind (minus Fact 4), why then is Doug O'Neill STILL being criticized? Despite what the press would have you believe, O'Neill is not a terrible guy. Okay, so he has had some drug infractions and some breakdowns, but I think it is safe to say that a majority of trainers have had similar problems. Half ton animals + slender, delicate legs + speeds of around 40 mph = disaster waiting to happen. It is a risk that everyone in the business takes. Owners and trainers are aware of these risks, and all but the lowest of the low take precautions to ensure the safety of both horse and rider, which is exactly what O'Neill did when he scratched I'll Have Another. Rather than sending out a colt who was less than 100%, he made the tough decision to put the horse's welfare first even though, according to the vet, I'll Have Another could still have raced.
Yet, O'Neill is somehow still the bad guy. At this point, I have heard it all. One guy decided that O'Neill and Reddam must have known about I'll Have Another's injury coming out of the Preakness and that they were asked to keep quiet about it in order for Belmont Park to ensure a sold out crowd on Belmont Stakes day. Considering what all occurred at Belmont over the past couple of weeks, I would say that it is safe to say this was not the case. Another believes that I'll Have Another injured himself by bucking and rearing in his new stall in the stakes barn. Another theory has O'Neill scratching I'll Have Another only because he was being so closely scrutinized. And one person even said that O'Neill and Reddam fabricated the injury to avoid running.
*Insert eye roll*
You have to feel bad for O'Neill, who, thanks to the decision to scratch I'll Have Another, found himself in the oh-so-lovely position of being damned if he did and damned if he didn't. Let's say he ran I'll Have Another anyway and that the colt broke down in the race. Can you imagine the outcry then? Luckily, we will never know what could have happened in that race in regards to a possible break down. So what if O'Neill made this decision because he was under scrutiny. For me, why he made the decision is not nearly as important as the decision itself. Despite our collective disappointment in not having the chance to potentially witness history, we can all at least agree on the relief that comes with knowing that I'll Have Another is safe and will have a brilliant career as a sire.
Now I know that many are not going to agree with me on this. I'm okay with that. I am not letting O'Neill off the hook for past transgressions but simply allowing him the opportunity to redeem himself. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from them. And if yesterday's decision was any indication, I would argue that O'Neill is on the right path.
Here's to a happy retirement and a brilliant second career at stud for I'll Have Another!