05/24/2012 2:46PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Young assistant lands on big stage with I'll Have Another

Jerry Dzierwinski/Maryland Jockey Club
Assistant trainer Jack Sisterson (left) leads I’ll Have Another to the track for training on May 9 at Pimlico.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Jack Sisterson was a member of the University of Louisville’s men’s soccer team in 2006 when his team traveled to New York for a match against St. John’s.

The schedule allowed for a day of sightseeing. While most of Sisterson’s teammates went to visit the Empire State Building or Ground Zero, Sisterson and a buddy took a taxi to Belmont Park.

“You got to get your priorities right,” said Sisterson, who two years later graduated Louisville with a degree in equine administration. “I never would have thought six years later I’d be going back with a potential Triple Crown at stake.”

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

Sisterson, 27, is part of the team helping prepare I’ll Have Another for the June 9 Belmont Stakes and a run at racing’s Triple Crown, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 34 years. Sisterson is an assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill and is currently the one overseeing I’ll Have Another’s preparation while O’Neill headed home to California for a week following last Saturdays’ Preakness.

Sisterson, 27, grew up around racing in England, where his parents owned and raced horses. Sisterson had a dream of becoming a jockey, but grew too tall – he’s 6 feet 2 inches – to continue the pursuit.

Sisterson came to the United States in 2004 to attend Louisville. In the summers, he has worked for trainers Todd Pletcher and Eddie Kenneally as well as Legacy Bloodstock.

In 2010, he went to work for O’Neill.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic to have a boss like Doug,” Sisterson said. “He’s such a great horseman, such a great boss. Not only does Doug take care of the horses fantastic, he helps us succeed with our goals. He keeps the spirits high. We can’t call it work. This has been like a vacation for us.”

Of Sisterson, O’Neill said: “He’s been around horses his whole life. He doesn’t do anything without consulting me anyway, but I think he’s a future in star in the game and he’s a great asset.”

Sisterson has been at Belmont since Sunday afternoon after I’ll Have Another vanned from Pimlico to Belmont Park.

I’ll Have Another walked the shed Monday and Tuesday, but returned to the track Wednesday and Thursday, where he jogged one-lap around Belmont’s 1 1/2-mile track alongside his high-profile stable pony, Lava Man. He was scheduled to resume galloping Sunday.

“He looked super, his energy level’s high, he’s doing everything we want to see him doing,” Sisterson said. “He’s just a happy horse.”

While Sisterson has aspirations of training on his own one day, he is quite happy being where he is at the current time.

“I’m blessed that Doug has put me in this position,” Sisterson said. “I’m somewhat young. A lot of people would give an arm and a leg to be in this position. It’s all because of Doug.”

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