Excuses are imbedded into every imaginable sport, and they fall into a wide variety of categories.
Some are quite valid. Others are flimsy. There are some that come across as a mix of the two.
Horse racing certainly has its share of excuses. Each day, in every race at any track across the nation, there’s a reason why a particular horse failed to win. In most cases, though, virtually no one ever will know why.
Maybe that $10,000 claimer who ran third Wednesday had missed a couple of days of training because of a fever. That allowance horse, who tired late and finished third, perhaps he was off his feed late last week.
It’s impossible to know everything about every participant in a competitive sport, and anyone who believes that’s unique to racing apparently never has heard New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick talk about an injury to one of his players. Good luck finding out from him about tight end Rob Gronkowski’s ankle — four months after the Super Bowl.
Naturally, with so much information at hand, it can become confusing to sort out the pertinent info and weigh its usefulness. Sometimes there’s so much gray area you simply have to wait until the race is over to find out if something that seems like an excuse a week before the race actually turns out to be an excuse.
As confusing as that might sound, it should be clearer upon pondering three potential excuses for I’ll Have Another when he tries to complete the first Triple Crown sweep in 34 years. They involve nasal strips, the new stakes barn at Belmont Park and the lack of an officially timed workout. One or none may have a pronounced role in determining the outcome Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, and determining how important they are seems best decided by a coin flip.
Let’s start with the nasal strip.
I’ll Have Another wore one in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The New York stewards, however, ruled he could not use it in the Belmont Stakes. Will it matter?
There’s little evidence that a nasal strip has a dramatic impact on a horse’s performance on a racetrack. If I’ll Have Another snores it might help him, but was that the difference between winning and losing in the first two legs of the Triple Crown? Probably not, but who can say for certain? Human athletes wear them, so there must be some benefit. How much does the nasal strip help is the question that probably will not be answered until after the race is over.
If I’ll Have Another becomes the 12th Triple Crown champion, then nasal strips might go the way of the hula hoop.
But if he becomes the 12th Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner since 1979 to fall short in the Belmont, nasal strips might wind up with a spot in racing lore right alongside a safety pin.
The stakes barn, and the intense security attached to it, could also become a factor. Maybe I’ll Have Another, who has been away from his Southern California base for more than a month, takes it all in stride. Yet spending Wednesday through Saturday in it might also be an unsettling experience for him, which is the last thing he needs heading into such a monumental race.
Again, anyone can hazard a guess at how he and every other horse in the field will handle a change in their normal routines, but there are no guarantees.
Finally, there’s the issue of trainer Doug O’Neill eschewing a workout and racing I’ll Have Another off gallops. He says I’ll Have Another gets more than enough out of his gallops to remain razor sharp.
It certainly sounds plausible. Yet if I’ll Have Another was showing signs of fatigue, does anyone believe O’Neill would let his competitors know that his horse is ready to do anything other than clobber them? A coach wouldn’t do that—as a press conference involving New York Rangers’ coach John Tortorella would attest. Nor would a trainer do it, especially since those words of warning could come back to haunt him if his horse wins easily.
It’s basically a guessing game for the fans and handicappers who come no closer to I’ll Have Another than the pictures and images they read on their computer screen, and that element of mystery only heightens the drama and tension that’s already built into the race. One would think that if I’ll Have Another was doing super, he would need a workout to maintain his edge for Saturday’s race. Yet trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil, defended O’Neill’s decision earlier this week by saying he did not give his horse a workout in the final two weeks leading up to the race and it didn’t stop him from winning.
Will it stop I’ll Have Another? Hate to make an excuse for him, but it might. Then again …
Horses in the Belmont Stakes on June 8 will face tighter security for the second straight year.