04/05/2017 1:46PM

Derby Watch: O'Neill, already in exclusive company, looks for more

Barbara D. Livingston
Iliad is Doug O’Neill’s leading Kentucky Derby hopeful. He is among four O’Neill is sending in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.

The morning after Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby last year, giving Doug O’Neill his second Derby win in the last five runnings, the trainer was informed that he had just equaled the likes of Woody Stephens and Charlie Whittingham with two Derby wins each.

“Wow. That’s crazy,” O’Neill said.

In fact, O’Neill – who has run just five horses in the Derby – has won the Derby as many times as Laz Barrera, Henry Forrest, LeRoy Jolley, Jimmy Jones, Lucien Laurin, Horatio Luro, Carl Nafzger, James Rowe Sr., and Nick Zito, a list that seems pulled right out of a book on racing’s history, as the horses those trainers are associated with include Affirmed, Genuine Risk, Northern Dancer, Secretariat, and the first coming of Hindoo, among many others.

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There have been 18 trainers who have won the Derby at least twice, the others being Bob Baffert, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Max Hirsch, Ben Jones, D. Wayne Lukas, and Derby Dick Thompson. Those trainers were associated with, among others, Triple Crown winners American Pharoah, Assault, Citation, Gallant Fox, Omaha, and Whirlaway.

Of those 18 trainers, 17 are in the Hall of Fame. O’Neill is the only one yet to get there. He’s put himself in pretty august company.

O’Neill is hoping for a try at Derby win No. 3 on May 6 at Churchill Downs. His best chance seems to lay with Iliad, the runner-up in last month’s San Felipe Stakes and the likely lukewarm favorite on Saturday in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. O’Neill will be sending out three others in the Santa Anita Derby, with Milton Freewater, So Conflated, and Term of Art joining Iliad.

Both of O’Neill’s Derby wins – with I’ll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016 – came in concert with owner Paul Reddam, a longtime supporter of O’Neill who will be represented Saturday by So Conflated. But O’Neill has picked up other prominent owners in recent years, including Sol Kumin, who is involved in the partnership that owns Milton Freewater; Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm, which owns Term of Art; and Kaleem Shah, who moved Iliad and several other horses to O’Neill when he split with Baffert a little more than three months ago.

“It was a late Christmas present,” O’Neill said of acquiring Iliad. “A very fortunate moment for me.”

Iliad “really impressed me from the first day I got him,” O’Neill said.

Iliad’s first start for O’Neill was in the San Vicente, which he won on Feb. 12. That is the same seven-furlong race O’Neill won last year with Nyquist.

Iliad most recently was second to Mastery in the San Felipe in Iliad’s first try around two turns.

“He put in a good push, but the last eighth of a mile was more of a fitness thing,” said O’Neill, who said he has trained Iliad far more aggressively – such as working him in company – for the Santa Anita Derby.

“He will move way forward,” O’Neill said. “He’s always been mature physically and mentally. He just needs a little more help stamina-wise. As a trainer, you have to make sure he has as much air as possible.”

The late-running Term of Art was third in the San Felipe. “I think he’s going to get better and better with racing,” O’Neill said.

So Conflated was sixth in the Gotham Stakes in his last start, his first race outside of California. O’Neill said the horse did not handle the travel to New York well, and he is hoping So Conflated rebounds Saturday.

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Milton Freewater was second in an allowance sprint on March 19 in his first start in three months. O’Neill said he’d benefit from a pace “meltdown.”

“He has a Gato Del Sol feel to me,” O’Neill said, referring to the 1982 Kentucky Derby winner. “He wants to come from off the pace.”

“Each of the four,” he said, “has every right to go in the gate with a chance to win.”

Smith to ride Untrapped

Mike Smith has picked up the mount on Untrapped for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 15, trainer Steve Asmussen said Wednesday. The Arkansas Derby is the last race on the Derby trail in which 170 qualifying points are on offer, including 100 to the winner.

Untrapped finished third in the Rebel in his last start on March 18.

Smith lost his top Derby prospect when the unbeaten Mastery sustained a condylar fracture when winning the San Felipe. Smith is scheduled to ride Reach the World in the Santa Anita Derby for Mastery’s trainer, Baffert.

Less than two weeks ago, Smith rode Arrogate for Baffert when winning the Dubai World Cup, beating the Asmussen-trained Gun Runner. Now, Asmussen and Smith team up.