06/04/2012 3:07PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: O'Neill 'confident' ahead of I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Doug O’Neill looks out from a Belmont Park barn on Monday. O’Neill will try to end a 34-year Triple Crown drought on Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – For a guy whose colt will try to end a 34-year drought in the Triple Crown on Saturday and whose professional life has been repeatedly picked over in the past month, trainer Doug O’Neill looked awfully calm Monday morning at Belmont Park, just days before I’ll Have Another tries to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in the 144th Belmont Stakes.

The reason? I’ll Have Another.

“I wouldn’t be so upright if the horse wasn’t doing so good,” O’Neill said after I’ll Have Another completed his daily exercise Monday morning. “He’s doing well. He’s eating good. He looks well.”

Indeed, more than four weeks into the grind of the Triple Crown, and two months since he attracted national attention with his victory in the Santa Anita Derby, I’ll Have Another appears to be coming into the Belmont in good shape. Though he will not have a workout between the Preakness and Belmont, he gallops strongly every morning and usually finishes off his gallop at a clip close to workout speed; on Monday, for instance, Daily Racing Form had him traveling from the finish line to the 1 1/4-mile pole in 26.52 seconds.

[BELMONT STAKES: Video updates, expected field, early odds]

“He’s four more good gallops away from making history,” O’Neill said.

That is contrast to the last Triple Crown bid, in 2008 by Big Brown, who in the days leading up to the Belmont suffered from a quarter crack and missed some training time.

“I’m very confident,” O’Neill said. “Not cocky or arrogant, but confident.”

O’Neill said I’ll Have Another has adapted well to the surroundings at Belmont Park and has taken kindly to the sandy surface. I’ll Have Another has been here for more than two weeks, having arrived the day following his victory in the May 19 Preakness.

“He’s handled everything so well,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill also remained outwardly sanguine regarding the required move to a detention barn for all Belmont Stakes horses. O’Neill wanted to get into the new barn as soon as possible and hoped to do so Monday, but was informed the barn would not be ready until Tuesday, so he was hoping to move then. All Belmont horses have to be in that barn by Wednesday. The Belmont Stakes horses are the only horses who will be required to be in that barn.

“It’s not in our control. After training tomorrow is the game plan,” O’Neill said.

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

It looks as though I’ll Have Another will have as many as 10 challengers in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the longest of the Triple Crown races. Entries are due Wednesday morning, and post positions will be drawn at 11 a.m. Eastern; HRTV will have live coverage of the draw.

In addition to I’ll Have Another, to be ridden by Mario Gutierrez, the rest of the Belmont field is expected to be Atigun (Julien Leparoux the rider), Dullahan (Javier Castellano), Five Sixteen (Rosie Napravnik), Guyana Star Dweej (Kent Desormeaux), Optimizer (Corey Nakatani), Paynter (Mike Smith), Ravelo’s Boy (Alex Solis), Street Life (Jose Lezcano), and Union Rags (John Velazquez). Unstoppable U (Junior Alvarado) is possible.

Guyana Star Dweej, a rank outsider who has won once in nine starts and will be making his stakes debut in the Belmont, had his final workout for the race Monday morning in company with Shkespeare Shaliyah, another 3-year-old trained by Doodnauth Shivmangal.

With Desormeaux up, Guyana Star Dweej was timed by Daily Racing Form in 49.30 seconds for a half-mile, but his stablemate appeared to be going the easier of the two.

Shivmangal said he made the decision to run in the Belmont after Guyana Star Dweej galloped Sunday in company with Shkspeare Shaliyah. Shivmangal said he thinks that outside of the top three or four contenders, “the rest of the horses are just mediocre horses.”

On Sunday at Belmont Park, five Belmont Stakes runners had their final works, topped by Dullahan, who went a half-mile in 45.82, and Paynter, who was timed in 1:24.57 for seven furlongs. Street Life went five furlongs in 1:01.16, Atigun had an easy half-mile work in 48.44, and Unstoppable U completed five furlongs in 1:02.13.

Also Sunday, at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, Union Rags flew through five furlongs in 58.50.

Union Rags is scheduled to travel by van to Belmont Park on Wednesday. Ravelo’s Boy, who has been training at Calder, was expected to arrive here Tuesday morning following a near 24-hour van ride from Florida.

Although it was cloudy and cool Monday morning, rain held off until after the Belmont horses here had completed their daily training, and the rain did not last long. According to The Weather Channel, showers are forecast at a 30-40 percent chance each day through Friday, with high temperatures in the low- to mid-70s.

The forecast for Saturday is encouraging, with a high temperature of 77 degrees and only a 10 percent chance of rain.

– additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch