Doug O’Neill knows how to play to a New York audience.
The morning after Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, the trainer of Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another showed up for his Belmont Stakes news briefing sporting a Mets cap.
A security guard at his colt’s barn gave him the cap Saturday morning, and O’Neill popped it right on his head.
”A good friend of mine, Keith, gave it to me,” said O’Neill, who lives in Southern California. ”He was pumped up. It’s a historical event. Their first no-hitter. The Kings are trying to win their first Stanley Cup and there’s this 34-year deal (without a Triple Crown winner). I’ll do anything that keeps the positive mojo going.”
O’Neill said I’ll Have Another went through his normal routine of a half-mile jog, one-mile gallop over a sloppy track at Belmont Park, which received 1-1/2 inches of rain overnight.
”We were on a very nice, safe, fresh track, and I’ll Have Another galloped like a champ over it,” he said.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will attempt to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner in the Belmont Stakes on June 9. The last horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont was Affirmed in 1978.
Before a gallop Sunday, O’Neill plans to have I’ll Haver Another walk from his barn through the tunnel leading to the paddock area, where the horses will be saddled before the 1-1/2-mile Belmont.
Mario Gutierrez, the colt’s jockey who has never been to the track, is scheduled to arrive Monday night, and may get a chance to ride in a race Friday over the same Belmont distance.
O’Neill’s Boxer Des Rues might run in the Brooklyn Handicap but is recovering from a right front foot bruise, so his status is uncertain. A trip over the track could be helpful to a rider who is new to big-time racing.
”The fact that the race starts at the same spot where the Belmont starts, I think it would be a great help for Mario to get it under his belt,” O’Neill said. ”If the horse is not right, he won’t run. But as of this morning, so far so good.”
Once the 25-year-old jockey arrives, he’ll be making several off-track appearances as well. He will be at the Empire State Building on Tuesday, and is scheduled to appear on ”Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on Thursday night, according to Equispone, a marketing company arranging Team O’Neill’s schedule.
Dullahan, perhaps I’ll Have Another’s top challenger, had his work outpostponed Saturday because of the muddy track. The third-place finisher in the Derby jogged instead and will have his workout Sunday.
Trainer Dale Romans is confident his colt can be the spoiler.
”I think we’re the horse to beat,” he said.
Dullahan will have a new rider in Javier Castellano, who replaces Kent Desormeaux. The Hall of Famer lost the mount after he failed a breath test May 18.