02/22/2005 1:00AM

Taking it up a big notch

Doug O'Neill has 60 horses ready to run, ranging from maiden claiming competitors to the winners of seven stakes at this Santa Anita meet.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Doug O'Neill has won training titles at three of the last four meetings in Southern California. That no longer seems to be good enough.

O'Neill is now not just winning titles, but breaking long-standing records.

Through Monday, O'Neill, 36, led the standings at the Santa Anita meeting with 33 victories. He is now within striking range of the all-time single-meet record of 47 wins set by Gary Jones (1975-76) and Bob Baffert (1997-98).

O'Neill had two victories on Monday, the second consecutive day his stable had scored a double. Following Monday's program, there were 41 racing days remaining to the end of the meeting on April 18. Racing resumed on Wednesday. O'Neill needed 14 winners to tie the record, which he thinks he can reach.

"We have enough numbers," O'Neill said. "I have enough good clients that will let us run them where they belong. It will be amazing if it happened."

O'Neill won the training title at Del Mar last summer. In September, he set a record for most wins at a Fairplex Park meeting with 16, three more than Mel Stute recorded in 1986. After finishing second to Mike Mitchell at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, O'Neill rebounded to win the title at the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

"The last six to eight months have been very good," O'Neill said. "We've had about 60 horses that have been ready every three or four weeks."

In addition to his pursuit at the current meeting, O'Neill holds the record for most victories at an Oak Tree meeting, having won 22 races in 2003.

To reach those milestones, O'Neill keeps a barn filled with horses who fit nearly every category. He leads all trainers with seven stakes victories at this meeting, but often has a runner in those dreary maiden claiming races on weekday cards.

"You'll get some trainers that don't want to be thought of as a claiming trainer," he said. "I think it's enjoyable. The same amount of time and effort is put in with those horses as with stakes horses. Regardless of the purse, you have to show up in the same place in the morning."

The stakes horses have pushed the stable into second on the national earnings list with $1,643,556, trailing only Steve Asmussen.

"It's such an expensive game. They make up for the ones that train well and don't get there," O'Neill said of the stakes horses.

O'Neill's seven stakes victories at this meeting have come with Whilly in the Sir Beaufort and Grade 2 San Marcos; Areyoutalkintome in the Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap; Cee's Irish in the Blue Norther; Grand Appointment in the Sensational Star Handicap; and Sharp Lisa in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Breeders' Cup and Grade 1 Las Virgenes.

Advised by his brother, Dennis, O'Neill is constantly on the lookout for prospects.

O'Neill bought Sharp Lisa and Supah Blitz last summer. Both have subsequently won stakes.

O'Neill considers Sharp Lisa the top runner in the barn. The 3-year-old filly is bound for the $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 9, a prep to the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Supah Blitz was acquired last summer and won the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap in his first start for the stable. He is a candidate for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 5.

O'Neill has added a pair of promising 3-year-olds in recent months.

Owner Paul Reddam bought Cream Donut Keith, the winner of a maiden race at Philadelphia Park. She won her first start for O'Neill by five lengths on Feb. 3 and is on schedule for the Santa Anita Oaks on March 13, O'Neill said.

Last week, Reddam bought Snack, a three-time stakes winner at Hoosier Park and Turfway Park, and turned him over to O'Neill.

Aside from directing a stable of 65 to 70 horses at his Hollywood Park base and working with top assistant Leandro Mora on 25 to 30 more at Santa Anita, O'Neill is in constant contact with clients. Each morning, he walks the Hollywood backstretch, a cell phone seemingly attached to his head.

He insists he puts it all behind him when he goes home to his family - his wife, Linette, and their two children, Daniel, 2, and Kaylin, who is four months old.

"I'm blessed that when I leave here, I have a wife who has no idea what happened," he said. "When I pull in the driveway, I turn the phone off."

Elite company

Doug O'Neill already has 33 victories during the Santa Anita meet, which puts him on track to break the meet mark of 47.

Tops at Santa Anita

Bob Baffert 471997-98
Gary Jones471975-76
Jeff Mullins 452003-04
Bobby Frankel451980-81
Bob Baffert442000-01
Farrell Jones441970-71
Bob Baffert432002-03
Bob Baffert432001-02

A year with O'Neill

Hollywood fall171st
Oak Tree112nd
Del Mar281st
Hol spring-summer322nd
SA winter-spring422nd