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Stage set for Triple Crown at Belmont Stakes

I'll Have Another will take a shot at history when he races for the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes Saturday. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
TimesLedger Newspapers

Saturday’s Belmont Stakes could rein in history.

I’ll Have Another has a chance to capture thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown in more than 30 years when the race kicks off Saturday.

Horse racing has not had a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and Belmont stakes in 1978. I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, said a victory for the horse would be a major boost for horse racing.

“If he were to get lucky and win on June 9, I think it would be great,” said O’Neill. “Anything we can do to show what a great game it is, how beautiful these horses are and how well they’re cared for is, I’m hoping, a positive step.”

O’Neill recently came under fire from animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after the trainer was suspended by the California Racing Board for alleged substance violations. PETA sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to take steps to prevent illegal drugging of horses in the race.

“Doug O’Neill’s shocking record of drug violations risks horses’ lives and damages the already-tarnished image of thoroughbred racing,” said PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange. “Gov. Cuomo can put substance behind his promises by telling racing officials not to allow I’ll Have Another out of their sight for a minute.”

Recent scandals at the New York Racing Association have cast a pall over the horse racing industry, as the governor announced the state would take executive power away from NYRA and create a temporary board to run racing for the foreseeable future.

The move came after NYRA fired its top executive, Charles Hayward, after an investigation found $8.5 million went unpaid to bettors.

Labor strife also marked the days before the big race. On Tuesday, a mediator was trying to settle a labor dispute at Belmont Park that threatened to scratch the race. An official with the union representing maintenance and starting gate workers at the racetrack denied the union, Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, waited until the Belmont Stakes — the final jewel in the Triple Crown — to threaten labor action.

“We have been trying to get a deal for two years,” a union representative said. “No one is looking to disrupt the Belmont Stakes.”

NYRA said the union’s actions so close to the Belmont Stakes was “very troubling.”

“It is extremely self-serving for Local 3 to use the attention and excitement of a Triple Crown attempt to further its own agenda,” NYRA said in a statement issued Monday night.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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