NEW YORK -- First I’ll Have Another, now Union Rags.
Injuries to the left front legs of both 3-year-old colts have left thoroughbred racing without its classic winners for the rest of the year, and beyond.
Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags is out with a ligament injury, but could return to the races next year, the colt’s veterinarian Kathy Anderson said Wednesday.
The news comes just over a month after Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another was retired with a tendon injury the day before the Belmont, which ended his chance to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
Union Rags, considered the top 3-year-old in training after his Belmont win, has a "small lesion of his high suspensory," said Anderson, but added his prognosis is "excellent" for a return in 2013. The injury likely occurred after a July 6 workout.
"He is scheduled to undergo treatment and therapy immediately with the goal of keeping his options open for 2013," Anderson said in a news release issued by Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. "Needless to say his owners, trainer and all connections are extremely disappointed with this turn of events, but we believe that this early diagnosis and treatment combined with rest will ultimately favor his full recovery and future success."
The same cannot be said for I’ll Have Another.
After the colt was retired, he was sold by J. Paul Reddam to Big Red
The New York Times reported that veterinary records obtained from New York state racing officials show I’ll Have Another was being treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs in the weeks after his win in the Preakness on May 19.
According to the records, X-rays of the colt’s front ankles and knees taken four days after the Preakness showed that I’ll Have Another had osteoarthritis.
The report said that two days before the Belmont, the colt was injected with painkillers and a synthetic joint fluid, and the next day trainer Doug O’Neill cited a left front tendon injury as the reason the horse was being retired.
However, O’Neill told The Associated Press on Wednesday that I’ll Have Another did not have osteoarthritis. The newspaper had four veterinarians who did not treat the colt review his vet records.
"X-raying is something that is just part of my caretaking for the horses. It’s perfectly normal to X-ray horses," O’Neill said. "To have four vets who have never seen the horse come and speculate off vet reports, it’s irresponsible. I’ll Have Another was sound, doing great all the way up until the tendon issue came up."
O’Neill called the Times report "irresponsible journalism."
"That horse went through every physical exam and blood exam known to man," he said. "He retired sound. He had the start of the tendon and we stopped on him. It’s a time where I really think we should be celebrating I’ll Have Another and all his accomplishments and applauding the Reddams for doing the right thing and not running him."
Union Rags won the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park to open the year, then finished third in the Florida Derby and seventh in the Kentucky Derby after troubled trips with Julien Leparoux aboard.
A jockey change to John Velazquez brought the success expected of the colt by trainer Michael Matz, with Union Rags holding off Paynter to win the Belmont in a photo finish. Union Rags, owned by Phyllis Wyeth, was in training for the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 29.
Matz said Union Rags wasn’t lame, but there was "a little fluid" after a Sunday jog.
"So we put a thicker poultice on it and he galloped great on Monday. He galloped again on Tuesday and couldn’t have gone any better, but afterward he did have some fluid again," Matz said in a story posted on bloodhorse.com
"The vet felt it was nothing, but did an ultrasound just to make sure. That’s when we discovered the slight tear in the suspensory. The prognosis is four to six months off, and there should be no sign of it after that."
With the top two 3-year-olds out of the picture, the division championship could be up for grabs. Bodemeister seems to be the current leader with a victory in the Arkansas Derby and narrow losses to I’ll Have Another in the Derby and the Preakness. His next start is scheduled for the Haskell.
AP Racing Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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