The Triple Crown bid of I'll Have Another almost ended Thursday when a loose horse came within inches of slamming into the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner during training at Belmont Park.
A collision was avoided, but not before the speeding horse grazed the boot of I'll Have Another's exercise rider Jonny Garcia.
"I've seen accidents like that happen, and they are ugly," trainer Doug O'Neill said.
Hours after the near miss at Belmont Park, the New York Racing Association announced there would be a 15-minute training window for Belmont runners only, beginning Friday morning. Trainers have the option of working their Belmont contenders from 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., or during regular training at earlier or later times.
O'Neill and his brother, Dennis, were terrified by what was unfolding 10 days before I'll Have Another attempts to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978.
After I'll Have Another began walking on the track, a horse had dumped its rider and came "screaming up the outside rail" in the same direction along the clubhouse turn, Doug O'Neill said.
I'll Have Another was walking a few feet from the rail, with stable pony, Lava Man, on the inside. O'Neill said the horse, later identified as the 3-year-old maiden filly Isleta, ran between the rail and I'll Have Another.
"Normally they walk the outside rail, but the racing gods must have been looking out for him because he was about two feet off the rail this morning," O'Neill said.
"It could have been terrible," said Dennis O'Neill, Doug's brother who bought I'll Have Another for $35,000 for owner Paul Reddam.
An hour after the near-miss, Doug O'Neill said his "stomach is still a little twisted by it. Fortunately, everything worked out fine."
I'll Have Another was never touched, and then proceeded on with his morning mile gallop before returning to his soon to be former stable a few yards from the main track.
"Once we dodged that, everything went well," O'Neill said. "He jogged great, galloped super. I noticed every day he's cooling out even quicker. He seems like he loves it here, and he's really getting used to the oval and getting used to the footing, and I couldn't be happier with the way he's going."
On Wednesday, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board imposed strict new rules for horses running in the Belmont. They include a stakes barn for all Belmont runners, out-of-competition blood testing and close scrutiny of the horses and humans attending them in the days leading up to the race.
"I have no problem with a detention barn. I wish we could go over there today," O'Neill said, adding he doesn't understand why the barn won't be ready until Wednesday.
"It sounds like it was not a real organized thing, kind of a late decision," he added.