Fact: Mike Smith made a decision to open up the rail in the Belmont Stakes yesterday aboard Paynter, giving Union Rags enough room to win the race. The margin was so small that it is doubtful that Union Rags would have won if he had to swing out instead. Lots of reasons Smith may have elected to come out. Maybe he wanted to slightly force the outside horses to do more work and get slightly intimidated. Maybe he thought that he would rather be on the outside of Union Rags instead of on the inside of him. Maybe the horse was getting out slightly forcing his decision.
You know what? This is what makes horse racing, or any other form of competition. What ifs. They are just as important to the game itself as the actual event itself. The worst thing is when you have a major event and nobody has anything to say about it. The more controversy, the more that will be spoken and written about it, in most cases, and horse racing desperately needs more and more people talking about it.
The leave Mike Smith alone crowd has every right to their opinion, blah blah blah great jockey blah blah blah, but it does horse racing no good in the long run if too many took that attitude. Kind of like if an interception is thrown by a great quarterback in the Super Bowl, while another receiver was wide open. No QB would escape scrutiny based on him being a future Hall of Fame member and overall nice guy.
Controversy from decision making on and off the field is huge business when it comes to most pro sports. From pre game NFL analysis to post game analysis, MLB managerial decisions, etc., there is plenty to talk about, and the more successful a game is, the more people talk after the game.
Unfortunately for horse racing, it has another form of self inflicted controversies (which really is on par with calling evolution controversial) that stem from the ridiculous overuse of drugs. This is another story. Major league sports, with stringent drug policies and fines have eradicated drugs from the arm chair quarterback repertoire, but in horse racing it is too much of the story. The first thing that naturally comes to mind when any trainer gets hot is "he must have found something that isn't being tested for." The only controversy is whether the trainer is getting a little lucky or if he has found something. In pro sports, streaks create good buzz: The player has confidence maybe, the player is on a roll thanks to changes made by the coaching staff, the player finally has the game figured out, but you never hear, the player must be milk shaking before the game anymore.
When it comes to drugs, I think enough people are fed up. I think that keeping the Doug O'Neill controversy alive is needed to help fix horse racing. Unfortunately, it is not that far fetched to believe I'll Have Another's destiny to scratch was determined when the 72 hour detention barn was announced. The guy has got nailed with 4 milk shake violations in the past. One might be forgivable, but 4 is no fluke. It tells me that he is one to throw in the kitchen sink using the best scientific data available in order to try to avoid positives, but really goes to the limit. With every horse? Who knows?
When the 72 hour detention barn was announced, I automatically thought there is no way I'll Have Another will win, though I didn't think he wouldn't race. As for the injury, sure it could be real, but it could have been an ongoing issue that O'Neill was dealing with, given the ability to use the proper concoctions. The fact is that the actual records will most probably never come out, including any x-rays now or that were done previously. There is also conflicting reports on when the injury happened. And trust me, I'm not a conspiracy theorist nutjob. If this played out the same way I'm thinking it did on the show Luck, it would have been completely buyable.
My opinion is that the connections were scared that I'll Have Another would have finished up the track, and the injury would have had zero to do with it. Again, there is the possibility that the horse really was sound for the first two Triple Crown starts and he really did injure himself. But knowing what I know about the game, I'll stick to my theory, and that is unfortunate for the game itself.
The fact that some people might believe I'm over the top here is fine. And even if I'm wrong, which might be very likely, I think it is important to keep the controversy alive.