Over the past several weeks, much has been written about I’ll Have Another’s quest for racing immortality. Some of the press has been good, but much of it has been bad. In what many consider one of the worst moves by racing officials, a 45-day suspension was handed down to I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill for an infraction that did not even occur this year. Of course, in what I believe was an act of leniency, the suspension does not go into effect until after the Belmont Stakes. Whether or not you believe that O’Neill is innocent of the charges he faced, the fact of the matter is that yet again, we are facing a possible Triple Crown sweep with the issue of drugs being in the forefront of everyone’s minds. If you are like me, you feel like you have been swept back in time four years to Big Brown’s try for the Crown.
Personally, I am over what the experts and non-racing sports writers think. I have my own opinion, just like everyone else. So rather than just give you my opinion, I asked horse racing fans (and the occasional non-fan) on Facebook what they thought of Mario Gutierrez, J. Paul Reddam, Doug O’Neill, I’ll Have Another, and the colt’s quest to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. Here is what the Average Joe/Jane had to say:
My husband, whose only knowledge of horse racing comes from what he has picked up from me over the past 7 years, said, “It will not look good whether or not he wins. Win or lose, people will be more focused on O’Neill’s infractions than I’ll Have Another’s accomplishments. It will be bad press regardless. It sounds cynical, but that’s the reality of the press. As a non-horse racing fan, I would like to see him win. As a Red Sox fan, I know what that drought is like, and I know what it feels like to have your hopes dashed.”
Lisa Setefano lamented, “I was chatting with some co-workers after the Preakness. They do not watch too much horse racing but had seen the news about a Triple Crown contender. I was sad to hear what they thought about I’ll Have Another due to the propaganda and negative, skewed press. What they thought was that I’ll Have Another was on steroids and that was why he had won the first 2 legs of the Triple Crown. I hope I’ll Have Another wins the Belmont and would love to see him make history by doing so, but I hope he is not remembered falsely as a “drugged” horse…”
Christopher Lally stated, “…The CHRB (California Horse Racing Board) wrote its findings…Every interpretation I read indicates a slander or dissembling. Ms. Chennery was out of line or misinformed when speaking about Mr. Reddam and Mr. O’Neill. I am rooting for the young Mr. Gutierrez but do not expect the Kent Desomeauxs of the world to give him a free pass. He will be race ridden. If not, shame on them all. The Triple Crown is tough. It is for those who EARN it.”
Cary Lemey said, “…I appreciate and thank these California connections for being so professional, humble, and human in their pursuit of this Triple Crown….He (Gutierrez) always brings the focus back to I’ll Have Another…I thank them for this gift of being able to watch this Triple Crown with my Grandmother, who got me to fall in love with this sport as she did 25 years ago...”
Sherri Lytle answered, "...I like his owner, and I love his jockey. Even though I have more respect for trainers like Michael Matz and Graham Motion, I know that if this horse wins, he did it on his own merit and that it was his trainer's idea for him to gallop those strong gallops and had him prepared for the Belmont."
Lastly, this is what Heather Seiden, a woman whom we all respect, had to say: “I have heard that he (O’Neill) is trying to clean up his act…I am a firm believer in people changing and learning life lessons...Reddam, well CashCall, that is a little icky because they aren't exactly known for ethical practices…How can anyone not love Mario!?!…Even though they aren’t the kind of connections that warm everyone’s heart, it’s possibly a Triple Crown. I would be okay with it. Quite frankly, I’m SICK to DEATH of the media assaulting our sport. Funny how the media never talks about things like fans helping fans (Tiz), raising money to help jockeys (PDJF), and owners who donate tons of money to charity (Quality Road’s stud fees all go to the Ned Evans Foundation). This sport does not receive its fair shake from the media—they seem to report on it only when thee is something unsavory. I know it’s news, but funding cancer research with stud fees is news, too!
For my not quite 2-year old son, the Belmont Stakes is just another opportunity to be amused by his loud, crazy, and silly mommy. Sure, he likes watching the horses race on TV or on my laptop screen, but he likes “pushing” the racing numbers at the bottom of the screen just as much. He enjoys making sidewalk chalk art by drawing and coloring I’ll Have Another’s silks. For him, it is all fun. He does not understand that he could be watching history in the making. Right now, he is used to my post time antics, but maybe one day he will join me in cheering on and screaming encouragement at (even though we know the horse cannot hear us) our favorite horse.
For me, it is the positive aspects of the sport that make the world go ‘round. It is the innocence of a 2-year old grinning happily at the TV simply because he likes watching the pretty horses. It is the friendships that form due to the love us fans have of not only the sport but the athletes as well, both equine and human. It is fans helping fans in times of need or owners giving back to the community through the money their horses earn. Like Heather, I am sick to death of all the negative press our sport garners. Unlike my cynical husband, I do think a Triple Crown win would be good for our sport. But aside from that, a Triple Crown win would mean the world to fans everywhere. THAT is what we should focus on, not O’Neill’s infractions. Because ultimately, it is about the horse, not the owners. Thankfully, most fans understand that, and most fans choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative, as the responses above show. Those responses (how I wish I could have used them all!) are just a sample from horse racing fans around the country, but I think they sum things up nicely.
Without a doubt, the Sport of Kings is in trouble here in the United States. For much of this year, many headlines outside of racing publications have focused on breakdowns and drugs. Yes, these are issues with which we are faced, but drug infractions are not limited to our sport. Just look at the MLB; how many of its greatest stars have come forward and admitted to steroid use? The answer is quite a few, and names included on this list include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and Alex Rodriguez. As for the nationwide illegal drugs, Miami Dolphins’ Ricky Williams and 8-time Gold medalist Michael Phelps have been caught up in their own drug scandals. The point I am trying to make here is that if fingers are going to be pointed, then they should not solely be pointed at the horse racing industry. We have our issues, and much has been done recently to try to fix these problems. My ultimate point, however, is that just because these issues are very real does not mean that we need to focus solely on the negatives. I think we can all agree that a Triple Crown winner would put a lot of positive light on our sport at a time when we desparately need it. Besides, I’ll Have Another has been raced clean. He has not been a part of any of the infractions that O’Neill has been cited for. So hate Doug O’Neill if you absolutely must, but do not knock I’ll Have Another. The colt is in no way responsible for the actions of his trainer; he is simply out there doing what he was bred and born to do: run his heart out and win!