Another obstacle to the Triple Crown has been removed from the path of I'll Have Another. As reported in the Daily Racing Form this morning, Wood Memorial runner-up Alpha is out of the June 9th Belmont Stakes after spiking a fever on Tuesday.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin explained to the DRF the reasons for skipping the race:
"It’s just not the thing to do," said McLaughlin, who discussed the situation with Godolphin Racing manager Simon Crisford. "It’s a demanding race, the mile and a half. We need to be 110 percent and we’re not."
The defection from the Belmont concludes a wild Triple Crown season for Alpha that saw the Godolphin colt win the Withers and the Count Fleet, then finish second to Gemologist in the Wood (when it looked like he would go right on by for the win), followed by a disappointing effort in the Kentucky Derby.
Alpha has run well in New York during his career and many believed that he could be one of the prime challengers to I'll Have Another in the Belmont. His defection removes one of the "proven" horses from the field but it's debatable as to how much of an impact Alpha would have had in the Belmont. At the time, the Wood looked to be a fairly strong prep race, but as the weeks have gone by, the strength of that race appears to be suspect, at best. Gemologist flopped in the Derby (and suffered an injury in the process), Alpha flopped in the Derby after another poor start, and while Teeth of the Dog finished 5th in the Preakness, he was almost 15 lengths back of I'll Have Another and Bodemeister. Not a good record in come back races for the top 3 in the Wood.