05/27/2012 2:31PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: O'Neill checks in on I'll Have Another, likes what he sees


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Doug O’Neill arrived in New York early Sunday morning following the red-eye flight from Southern California. Any jet-lag he may have felt from the cross-country trip dissipated after laying eyes on his Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another.

 “I thought he looked great; just going in the stall and seeing him, his legs were ice cold and he had cleaned up his feed tub,” said O’Neill, who arrived at Belmont around 6:15 a.m., 45 minutes after his plane landed. “He continues to amaze me the way he’s handled all this and continues to thrive.”

[I’LL HAVE ANOTHER: Derby, Preakness winner runs for Triple Crown]

Sunday was the first morning O’Neill had seen I’ll Have Another since May 20, the day after I’ll Have Another won the Preakness by a neck over Bodemeister to set up his run at history in the June 9 Belmont Stakes. I’ll Have Another, who won the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths on May 5, will attempt to become the sport’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

 “I can’t believe I’m in this spot,” O’Neill said. “I’m proof if you have a talented horse and got a great team and a great staff, miracles can happen. It’s all about the horse and he is an amazing horse.”

O’Neill went home following the Preakness to spend some time with his family and check in on his large stable at Hollywood Park. He also learned his fate from the California Horse Racing Board, which suspended him for 45 days for one of his horses testing for an excess of the permitted level of total carbon dioxide. High TCO2 levels are commonly associated with the illegal practice of “milkshaking” horses, something given a horse for additional stamina.

Though the CHRB ruling said there was no evidence of the horse Argenta receiving a milkshake - a mixture of bicarbonate of soda, sugar and electrolytes - in a race at Del Mar on Aug. 25, 2010, it still suspended O’Neill under the trainer insurer rule. O’Neill has steadfastly denied giving the horse a milkshake.

 “I was shocked they announced it the time they did,” O’Neill said. “I was very thrilled that they said what I had been saying all along - that there was no wrongdoing. In a way, it’s good to get all of that out of the way now and just focus on what it’s all about and it’s about the horse and this historical event.”

O’Neill said he will not decide whether to appeal that suspension - and a $15,000 fine - until after the Belmont Stakes. The CHRB announced that the suspension would not take effect until July 1 at the earliest.

“I’m not sure why I got suspended after them realizing there was no wrongdoing but we’ll figure that out after the Belmont,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill said he does not plan to give I’ll Have Another a timed workout between now the Belmont Stakes. He said he believes I’ll Have Another gets enough out of his morning gallops to have him fit.

On Sunday, I’ll Have Another galloped 1 1/8 miles over a Belmont main track that was sloppy and sealed from a thunderstorm that hit at 8 a.m., just before the renovation break.

 “He just skipped over it. He looked great,” O’Neill said. “The first couple of days we were at Pimlico it had a light seal on it and he skipped over that as well. It didn’t seem to bother him at all.”

O’Neill said he’s not surprised that I’ll Have Another could have as many as 11 opponents in the starting gate on Belmont Day.

 “I could see where people would think our horse has run two tough races and might be eligible to be a little tired and not at his best,” O’Neill said. “From what I saw today he’s ready.”

Those expected to face I’ll Have Another include Alpha, Atigun, Dullahan, Five Sixteen, Guyana Star Dweej, Optimizer, Paynter, Ravelo’s Boy, Street Life, Union Rags, and Unstoppable U.