They were a pair of unexpected heroes who will be linked together forever. Unfortunately so much of the story centered on I'll Have Another and his jockey Mario Gutierrez will also be clouded with questions of what could have been after the race horse officially was scratched from the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
I'll Have Another will officially retire as well, which means that the winner of the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes will go out a champion who couldn't quite finish competing for the Triple Crown. He was a completely unexpected surprise who upended the more celebrated Bodemeister not once but twice on the biggest stage possible.
As for the jockey who brought him there, Gutierrez was riding for the first time on any level like the Derby when he overtook Bodemeister down the stretch to win. He's been a joy to watch from the outset with real emotion, authenticity and, obviously, talent. His keen handling of I'll Have Another was as great of a story to watch as the horse himself. Now we have to go without both.
Gutierrez mourned the loss of I'll Have Another when the news was made official.
"He'll be my hero forever," a somber Gutierrez said. "What I'll Have Another did for me is so amazing. He brought happiness to my life."
It's also clear that Gutierrez is not the only one upset. Even competitors were frustrated and sorrowful at the loss of horse racing history in the making.
"Our hearts go out to the connections of I'll Have Another," NYRA chairman Steven Duncker said. "We are all disappointed for them, the fans, and for the sport of thoroughbred racing, but the most important concern is always the health and well-being of the horses."
For more on the Belmont Stakes and the race for the Triple Crown, stay with thisStoryStream and check out SB Nation's horse racing blog And Down the Stretch They Come. There, you'll also find a beginner's guide to following horse racing and aglossary of horse racing terms.