NEW YORK -- All along, Dale Romans said he had the horse to beat in the Belmont Stakes.
Now he does.
Dullahan was made the 9-5 favourite for Saturday's Belmont after I'll Have Another was retired with a tendon injury a day before his attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.
"I thought it was going to be one of the greatest races in history, and I was wanting to be part of it," Romans said. "This gives us a better opportunity but this was going to be bigger than that."
I'll Have Another would have been the odds-on favourite to join the likes of Secretariat, Citation and Affirmed as a Triple Crown champion. But a tendon injury to his left front foot flared up Thursday. After it was treated, the colt went out for a light gallop early Friday morning, but when he returned the tendon was swollen. After an ultrasound, trainer Doug O'Neill announced the horse was not only out of the Belmont, but had been retired.
Dullahan comes into the 1 1/2-mile Belmont well rested. After winning the Blue Grass in April, the chestnut colt finished third in the Kentucky Derby, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths by I'll Have Another even after he bumped Union Rags at the start and ended up seven wide before closing with a rush. Romans thought about the Preakness, but decided to skip it and prepare for the Belmont, also known as the "Test of the Champion."
"Before this happened," Romans said of I'll Have Another's injury, "I thought we had a great chance."
O'Neill thinks Dullahan is now the horse to beat as well, and plans to bet a couple of bucks on him Saturday. He'll also be around to watch I'll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez lead the field of 11 3-year-olds in the post parade onto the track. The injury is not considered serious, and Belmont Stakes on-call veterinarian Larry Bramlage cleared the colt to make an appearance.
"I'm going be bummed we're not in it, but I'll be studying the (Racing) Form a little differently tonight," O'Neill said.
Dullahan, who was the second choice behind I'll Have Another, leaves from the No. 5 post with Javier Castellano aboard.
Union Rags moves up to the 3-1 second choice. The colt trained by Michael Matz ran a disappointing seventh in the Derby under Julien Leparoux, but will have a new rider in John Velazquez, who won the 2007 Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches. Union Rags has a win over Belmont Park, taking the Champagne last year. He also won the Fountain of Youth Stakes before finishing third in the Florida Derby.
Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister won't be around, but trainer Bob Baffert will send out Paynter as the 7-2 third choice for Zayat Stables. The lightly raced Paynter has won two of three starts, most recently an allowance race at Pimlico a few races before I'll Have Another won the Preakness.
The rest of the field, with the new odds, is Street Life (8-1), Optimizer, My Adonis and Atigun (all at 15-1), Unstoppable U (20-1), and Ravelo's Boy, Five Sixteen and Guyana Star Dweej (all at 30-1).
Atigun and Unstoppable U are trained by Ken McPeek, who won the 2002 Belmont with Sarava at odds of 70-1.
My Adonis, winless this year in four starts, is owned by George and Lori Hall and trained by Kelly Breen, who teamed up to win last year's Belmont at odds of 27-1.
Romans was looking forward to challenging I'll Have Another.
"It was odd because I wanted the easiest race I could find," he said. "I was disappointed because we had the opportunity to go out there and make history by beating a possible Triple Crown."