OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As a native of Michigan, trainer Doug O’Neill is well versed in cold weather.
So while he was only here a few hours, the now Southern California-based O’Neill was well prepared for Friday morning’s below-freezing temperatures at Belmont Park.
“This ain’t my first rodeo in the cold weather,” said O’Neill, bundled up with two coats, wearing a ski hat, with hot coffee in hand.
O’Neill was at Belmont Park on Friday morning to watch his newest acquisition, Mudflats, put in his final workout for next Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.
The Little Red Feather Racing partnership purchased Mudflats privately following his maiden victory here at Aqueduct on Dec. 8.
With no transportation to California available until after first of the year, the decision was made to leave Mudflats in New York – he took up residence in trainer David Duggan’s barn – for the Jerome.
“We initially talked about flying him home; because of the holidays there were no flights coming west until the first of the year,” O’Neill said. “At that point we thought with the Jerome here, if he stays injury free and he’s doing good, why not shoot for that? Still, it’s not the ultimate goal.”
The ultimate goal, of course, would be the Kentucky Derby, a race O’Neill won this year with I’ll Have Another.
O’Neill got his first up-close-and-personal look at Mudflats after arriving in New York around 6:30 a.m. following a red-eye flight from California. Mudflats worked shortly after 9:30, following the second renovation break.
Mudflats, under jockey Junior Alvarado, worked six furlongs in 1:15.39, breaking off at the half-mile pole and working to the six-furlong pole, which made the work go around two turns. The Jerome is run around two turns, at a mile and 70 yards.
Equipped with a small set of blinkers, which he wore for the first time in his maiden win, Mudflats went his first quarter in 24.06 seconds, the half-mile in 48.82, and got his final quarter in 26.57, working into a bit of a headwind. He galloped out seven furlongs in 1:30.54.
“Junior was real happy with him, visually he looked great,” O’Neill said. “With these winterized tracks they’re a lot more demanding than we’re used to out west, so I think 1:15-and-change is a tremendous work. Ideally, he comes out of it good and the Jerome here we come.”
O’Neill said Mudflats’s maiden win caught the attention of his brother Dennis and assistant trainer Jack Sisterson, who looked into the prospect of purchasing the gelded gray son of Tapit.
“Being by Tapit and winning the way he did and getting the numbers that he did that piqued our interest,” O’Neill said. “I loved the fact the current owners stayed in for a piece – they want to stay along for the ride – which is always a great thing.”
Asked why he felt it was important to be here Friday for the workout, O’Neill said, “We paid a lot of money for him. It’s a serious investment, he’s a serious racehorse. These guys are paying for me to manage and lead the way, so it’s hard to do that over the phone. I wanted to see him, put my hands on him, and watch him go.”
By 11:30 a.m., O’Neill was back at the airport, headed for another cross-country flight to Southern California.
Long River ‘keen’ for Jerome
Long River, one of Mudflats’s chief rivals in the Jerome, also worked Friday morning, breezing a half-mile in 48.07, the fastest of 20 works at the distance. He worked in company with the maiden Valid, who scratched out of a race here Friday to run in a race at Laurel on Monday.
It was the first breeze for Long River since he won a maiden race here by three-quarters of a length on Dec. 15.
Art Magnuson, the New York assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, said Long River has gotten “a lot more keen” since his race.
“He’s run a couple times now,” Magnuson said. “He’s pretty keen, pretty happy; it’s good timing.”
Others expected in the Jerome include Amerigo Vespucci, Notacatbutallama, Siete de Oros, Vegas No Show, and Vyjack.
Mott runners breeze for stakes
Two of trainer Bill Mott’s New York-based horses worked Friday for upcoming stakes on this circuit.
Arena Elvira, pointing to Tuesday’s $75,000 Ladies Handicap, breezed four furlongs in 49.31 seconds over the Belmont training track. Star Harbour, possible for the Boom Towner Stakes on Jan. 9, went four furlongs in 49.87 seconds.
Arena Elvira, who won five consecutive stakes from Aug. 5, 2011 through March 17, 2012, will be making her third start off a layoff for trainer Bill Mott. She was twice beaten by Afleeting Lady in graded stakes at Belmont and Churchill.
“She’s had a couple of races under her now,” said Neil Poznansky, who is overseeing Mott’s New York string. “She’s been training lights out so I’m expecting a big effort.”
Star Harbour recorded back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in winning allowance races at Belmont and Aqueduct.
* Aqueduct will be open for live racing Monday, New Year’s Eve, and Tuesday, New Year’s Day. There will be no live racing Wednesday and Thursday.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the horse Mudflats beat in his Dec. 8 maiden win. Mudflats defeated Malachite, not Revolutionary. On Friday, Revolutionary won a maiden race at Aqueduct in which Malachite finished fifth, beaten 23 1/4 lengths.