Peter Schmuck: I'll Have Another's trainer awaits increased scrutiny at Belmont

Preakness-winning trainer is going to continue to enjoy the ride

May 19, 2012|Peter Schmuck

Start spreading the news if you want, but it won't be necessary. Doug O'Neill is about to take New York.

If you thought the trainer of Triple Crown candidateI'll Have Another had fun in Louisville and Baltimore, imagine what it's going to be like when he waltzes into the Big Apple with a chance to make horse racing history.

That was just a warmup ceremonial pitch he threw at Oriole Park last week. Wait until you see him at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. Wait until he does a little sit-down standup on Late Night with David Letterman.

O'Neill seemed almost subdued after I'll Have Another ran down Preakness favorite Bodemeister for the second time in two weeks and scored a heart-stopping victory that propelled him into the Belmont Stakes with a chance to be horse racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Maybe that was just in contrast to the exciting finish, because he quickly made it clear that he intends to head to New York soon and enjoy every minute of it.

"The great thing about having a horse like I'll Have Another, it opens up a lot of doors,'' he said. "You get to meet so many people who love horses, and they love horse racing. Along the way, if we can share a little bit of the backstage fun of it, and the excitement, and the beauty of it, I would like to do that.

"I would love the opportunity to do cool things in New York if we can."

That's a given, provided his amazing comeback horse comes back from his terrific performance healthy and ready to make the trip Sunday to Belmont Park. O'Neill came to Baltimore just days after the Kentucky Derby, and he clearly wants to stay with the same routine for the third jewel.

Of course, along with all the happy hype that will be showered on I'll Have Another and his connections, O'Neill knows he'll also be under a Manhattan-sized microscope for a series of alleged training violations (not involving this horse) that could lead to a 180-day suspension following the Belmont.

O'Neill has steered around those questions during this Triple Crown run as deftly as jockey Mario Gutierrez has steered I'll Have Another around two of the most storied racetracks in the world. He has been accused of "milkshaking" several horses — illegally injecting a concoction of bicarbonate into their noses to help them stave off fatigue — but insists that he runs a clean operation and harbors no apprehension about answering questions about his training methods.

"Not at all,'' he said. "We play it by the rules. It's all about the horse. Just going to focus on the horse. I think we've got a horse and a team that can, with a little bit of luck, have an unbelievable time in [three] weeks."

It'll be no small task to nail down the third leg of the Triple Crown. The Belmont is a 1 ½-mile marathon that likely will feature some quality horses that did not run in both the Derby and Preakness. I'll Have Another hasn't run at that distance and has never run three races in a five-week span, but his late-running style would seem to be an advantage at the longer distance.

"I think going into that race, we'll have a fresh Union Rags and Dullahan ready for us,'' said Dennis O'Neill, who suggested to his brother and owners J. Paul and Zilla Reddam that they buy I'll Have Another. "But the way this horse runs, they're going to have a hard time catching him … I don't think anybody doubts he'll get the mile and a half."

J. Paul Reddam was asked during the post-race media conference about the doubts that had been raised about his trainer and his inexperienced jockey. He dismissed them without hesitation.

"There may have been doubts about the trainer and the jockey, but the doubts were not expressed by me,'' Reddam said. "I thought that Doug did a fantastic job preparing the horse, and I don't know how he managed to have such an active social life at the same time. But every time I turn on the TV or the radio, there he was. I think he just really enjoyed the whole ride."

Doug O'Neill said he is going to continue to do just that, though the demands on his time — as well as the questions about his clouded future — figure to ratchet up considerably over the next three weeks

"There is a good chance I might change my phone number,'' O'Neill said, "but it's one of those things where I'm just so proud of this horse. Like Mario said, 'It's all about the horse.' The horse is way up there. We take care of him. We love him, but it's all about the horse. Any attention on me, I just want to deflect and just focus on the Reddams and their horse and the Belmont."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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