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Updated on 06/06/2012 8:22AM
Belmont 2012: I'll Have Another's camp calm
ELMONT, N.Y. - A little more than an hour after I'll Have Another completed his usual morning gallop Tuesday at Belmont Park, he was safely tucked away in his stall in Barn 9, groom Inosencio Diaz standing alongside him. Doug O'Neill, the trainer of I'll Have Another, had earlier that morning decided to delay by 24 hours I'll Have Another's relocation to the detention barn in which all the horses in Saturday's Belmont Stakes needed to be moved by Wednesday. As someone who is closer to I'll Have Another than anyone else, Diaz thought I'll Have Another would be just fine.
"Everything is relaxed, not crazy," said Diaz, who has worked for O'Neill for nine years. "All the time, he's not nervous, nothing. He's never crazy, takes a siesta."
No one has been caught snoozing around I'll Have Another as he prepares for the 144th Belmont Stakes, and a bid for the Triple Crown. O'Neill likes to refer to the team he has around I'll Have Another, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but it's more like a small army. Paul Reddam, the owner of I'll Have Another, rented a house in nearby Old Westbury where 10 members of O'Neill's staff are making do in sweet digs that have a swimming pool and a hot tub.
People like O'Neill, assistant Jack Sisterson, chiropractor Larry "Thumper" Jones, and exercise rider Johnny Garcia may have become better known during this Triple Crown odyssey, but there's a large entourage with I'll Have Another that also includes people like Diaz, and Benjamin Perez, O'Neill's foreman.
Both Diaz and Perez are natives of Mexico who have worked in racing for more than two decades. Diaz, 47, is the more outgoing of the two. His first job in racing was with the since-retired Gary Jones, for years one of California's elite trainers. He also worked for Eduardo Inda, for whom Diaz was the groom of Riboletta, the Eclipse Award-winning older female of 2000. He has been with O'Neill for nine years.
Perez, 37, has worked over the years for trainers such as Walter Greenman, Alex Hassinger Jr., Wally Dollase, and John Shirreffs, many through his previous association with the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp., which campaigned 2001 Belmont winner Point Given. He has been with O'Neill for five years. Most mornings, it is Perez who walks I'll Have Another around the shed row before and after his training.
All those who work with I'll Have Another describe him as a fairly straightforward horse to train, absent bad habits, but definitely territorial.
"He's a man. There's no doubt about it," said Steve Rothblum, 60, a former trainer who now works as a bloodstock adviser to numerous owners who have horses with O'Neill.
"If you go in his stall, he'll nip and bite at you. He'll let you know you're in his room," O'Neill said. "But he's not a mean horse at all."
One of the things that O'Neill believes sets I'll Have Another apart is his ability to rebound from his races and retain his enthusiasm for training.
Tuesday morning, O'Neill thought I'll Have Another had another good gallop.
"Good stride, good energy," O'Neill said.
I'll Have Another is neither too large nor too small. O'Neill estimates he weighs about 1,100 pounds, but he has never put him on a scale.
"He's average-size, but he's powerful," O'Neill said. "Most horses lose about 25 pounds after a hard race, but he bounces back. There's been lots of travel -- on and off vans, on and off planes. It takes a special horse to handle all that."
I'll Have Another was going to be on the move again on Wednesday, when he was to be sent to the mandatory detention facility, Barn 2. O'Neill originally wanted to move on Monday, but the barn was not set up - it needed to be disinfected. O'Neill had a media luncheon in Manhattan on Tuesday hosted by the New York Racing Association, and since he wanted to be here for the move to the detention barn, he decided to wait another 24 hours to move I'll Have Another.
O'Neill said that Lava Man, the former racehorse who is I'll Have Another's pony, would not go to the new barn.
"Everything's a little tight in there. He'd lose his mind," O'Neill said. "It's too nerve-wracking for him. I don't need I'll Have Another wondering what's going on with big brother."
Lava Man, though, will still accompany I'll Have Another during his training sessions on the racetrack on Thursday and Friday.
"They get along so good on the track," O'Neill said.
My Adonis added to field
My Adonis on Tuesday was added to the Belmont field by owners George and Lori Hall and trainer Kelly Breen, bringing the number of likely entrants to 12. Ramon Dominguez will ride. The Halls and Breen won the race last year with Ruler On Ice. My Adonis was third in the Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico on May 5 in his last start.
In other Belmont developments:
◗ Ravelo's Boy arrived on Tuesday morning following a van ride from Calder Race Course in Florida. He immediately went to the detention barn.
◗ Dullahan had an eye-catching gallop that caught O'Neill's eye as he went by during the brief morning session set aside for Belmont Stakes horses. "He's training great, that horse," O'Neill said.
Saying IHA is neither too big nor too small is an attempt to conceal the truth: He's small by almost any comparison. His size is the reason he was never favored in races, noticed as a foal, bid up as a yearling or selected for breeding as a stallion in the US. He's 15.3 hands high, Sea Biscuit was called small at 15.2 hands, Northern Dancer likewise. All of the triple crown winners except Empire Maker were over 16 hands high.
IHA and Team O'Neill are at the top of their game. They have a great leader (Doug). They are doing their homework between the team and i look forward to IHA and Team O'Neill making history on Saturday. Doug, Mario and the rest of Team O'Neill keep up the great work and i look forward to seeing everyone back here in sunny So Cal.... Your Biggest Fans and Friends - The Velasco's
So, the field broadens to 12. Pretty good size field for the Belmont. It's nice to read about all of the members of the I'll Have Another team. The entire team takes care of IHA very well - they have done an excellent job and are to be commended. IHA is a calm, happy horse and they are a large part of IHA's great well-being. Great job, everyone! That retention barn still isn't finished? This process is happening slowly. I love how IHA takes everything in his stride - he's calm. Crowds, lights, cameras, and the media don't faze him in the least bit. Watching the scene around IHA when he is taking a bath is funny. The amount of people and cameras around him during baths can be daunting to a human, no less a horse. IHA handles it all well. On Derby/Stakes Days IHA becomes totally professional on top of being calm. He calls upon that talent, heart, tenacity and will-to-win that IHA possesses and he goes quietly about his business in a race - he is definitely all business! It has been an honor to watch him in action. He's beautiful to watch.
The only thing that really concerns me Sat. in the "Belmont" is a muddy/off track ? I.H.A. did'nt fare well last year in the mud in the "Hopeful" ! If the track/weather is right, we'll have our first triple crown winner in 34 years, and when that happens, "I'll Have Another" ! Go Mario, save some kick for the final "quarter", it's a very long "stretch" !
Saturday, Partly sunny, high of 77 and 20% chance of rain. Couldn't ask for a better day than that.
Who's in charge? I thought that the state of New York, its governor, and the the New York State Racing and Wagering Board nillified NYRA's appointment of a president, pending potential mistake on the part of the organization. A recent trade publication, however, says that the President NYRA appointed is truthfully still president. I assume this is the decision of the honest, ethical people on the NYRA Board of Directors.
If IHA is at 100% I don't see him getting beat. I fear Dullahan more than Union Rags. UR will disappoint again. Paynter won't be around at the finish. The new shooter, Atigun, might make the tri or super. I think Mario will ride a smart race and will give him and his horse a chance to make history.
The Belmont sets up for IHA's running style, but don't kid yourself into thinking that the last two races didn't take something out of him. You won't see it in gallops in the AM. IHA will be in the lead at some point in the race, but will have to hold off fresher horses and will have to do so less than 100%. This is why it's so hard to conquer the triple crown. Cheer with your heart, bet with your head.
I'm thinking IHA, Street Life, Paynter and Dullahan, in that order. I know Street Life is a long shot to finish that high, but are we really to think that there won't be some long shot finish at least in the top 3?
No offspring of Dixie Union has ever won at 10+ furlongs.