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Hollywood Park: O'Neill starts search for next stable star
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Sunday afternoon, Doug O’Neill sat alone in a deserted section of the turf club at Betfair Hollywood Park, watching races on a monitor and occasionally reaching for his overworked mobile phone.
It was the rare occasion when O’Neill had solitary time in the last month. With I’ll Have Another’s wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, O’Neill was at the center of attention in racing and the sports world.
By Sunday, two days after a tendon injury resulted in I’ll Have Another’s shocking retirement the day before the Belmont Stakes, O’Neill was back at his home base. There were no television cameras, horde of journalists, or well-wishers tagging along. For O’Neill, it was time to focus on the other 75 horses he trains.
A little peace and quiet, he admitted, would be different.
“I’ll be calling people, saying, ‘Hey, let’s talk,’ ” he said Sunday.
O’Neill, who turned 44 in the week after the Preakness, has had a career-defining spring with I’ll Have Another. He has trained three champions in his career, most recently 2006 outstanding sprinter Thor’s Echo, but that achievement does not match winning the first two races of the Triple Crown.
“What a ride,” he said Sunday, reflecting on the spring. “It was awesome, a great time that he gave us all year long. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse.”
O’Neill was left to ponder what could have happened if I’ll Have Another had started in the Belmont.
“I think he would have won,” he said. “Distance was never a problem for that horse.”
That is lost to history, and finding anything close will be difficult. O’Neill returns to a California stable that has a glaring absence at the top.
Through Sunday, O’Neill had seven wins from 39 starters at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. Bob Baffert led all trainers with 21 wins.
O’Neill said his stable will be more active in coming weeks, now that he is back in Southern California.
“We’ve been chilled,” he said. “I didn’t want to run horses when I wasn’t here. You want to make sure you know where you are with everything.”
Right now, that focus is finding another top horse in the stable, which is based largely at Hollywood Park with a smaller division at Santa Anita.
Willyconker, who won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf at Santa Anita in March, has been turned out after recently undergoing surgery to have a bone chip removed in an ankle. Thirtyfirststreet, fourth in the Grade 2 Mervyn Leroy Handicap on May 5, could start in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 7, but will be a longshot.
As a result, the stable’s 2-year-olds will be heavily scrutinized for ability. While O’Neill does not have any juveniles nominated to the two stakes at Hollywood Park on Saturday – the Willard Proctor or Cinderella Stakes – he says he has several prospects to run before the spring-summer meeting ends July 15.
In Thursday’s first race, a maiden race for 2-year-olds over five-furlongs, O’Neill starts Papa G.T., an Unbridled’s Song colt who was fourth in his debut May 6.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” he said.
For Paul and Zillah Reddam, who own I’ll Have Another, O’Neill trains a colt by Tapit and a filly by Candy Ride, Silent Ride, that are expected to start in coming weeks.
The colt has not been named.
“We can run by the end of the meeting,” he said. “That will be awesome and should get him ready for the stakes at Del Mar.”
As for Silent Ride, O’Neill said, “She can flat out run. She’s very close, probably the next couple of weeks.”
Those are among the early summer prospects for the fall – and beyond.
“Today is day one for searching for our 2013 Triple Crown horses,” he said.
That quest will lead to plenty of attention for O’Neill in the future.
I wish you all the luck in finding another champion.
Best of luck team O'neill and to I'll Have Another and Lava Man too! We'll be waiting for the next One! ps I love Candy Rides, they can do anything!
Thank you, Doug, for the great job you did in training I'll Have Another. You showcased IHA's heart, intelligence and talent for us and brought him front and center for everyone to see and marvel at, and you clearly nurtured him very well. The horse obviously adored you, evident in pictures taken with you and him together. He also clearly adored Mario, too. Their bond was special and you could see it everytime Mario piloted IHA in a race. So you were both doing something right in making I'll Have Another feel contented and happy - enough to run like the wind and thrill us all with that third and fourth gear I'll Have Another possessed. You brought us a great champion! And now it is time to find other stars for the future. Have great good luck in finding your next superstar. You are correct, I'll Have Another was a once in a lifetime horse for a trainer, but I'm sure you will find other great horses and build upon their talents. After all, you have brought us Steviewonderboy, Lava Man and I'll Have Another. Not a bad track record there! So, I look forward to seeing this new group of trainees blossom into champions like those three horses did. Good fortune to you in the future, Doug!
Hey Dog! Got any horses by "Successful Appeal"
thats life in the fast lane. the circle cant be allowed to break. 2 yr. olds become 3 yr. olds . yearlings become 2yr olds. more foals are born. so goes the life of a trainer. those who cant keep up , dont get to play. thats life on the backside. its not for the fearful nor the faint hearted. its for the few that are completely dedicated to the sport. may horse racing live for ever. amen. "an ole railbird".
Welcome home, Doug and IHA! What a ride indeed! I, like everyone else, wish you coulod have run in the Belmont. You would have won IHA. No doubt in my mind and heart, you would have won! Oh, but what a ride! What memories! Now rest and relax and bask in the glow of all of those wonderful memories! Now, Doug, find the next IHA! Good Luck!
Wonder what the clinical name for the new star will be.