With all the ups and downs Doug O’Neill has experienced over the last five weeks, one might assume he would need a day or two to catch his breath. Yet there he was, sitting at the desk in his stable office 7 a.m. Sunday, studying his computer and tending to business as usual.
“I think that’s a sign of how much we all love this game,” said the now nationally known trainer. “I couldn’t wait to get back.”
O’Neill remarked that future plans are still up in the air, but immediate arrangements for I’ll Have Another have been set.
“He’s coming back (Monday),” disclosed O’Neill. “We’ll continue to wean him off his grain. It usually takes horses 10 days to two weeks to wind down. Once he’s ready to go to the ranch, he will. I’d love to keep him around forever, but he’ll stay with us until he has a final spot.
“I can’t imagine us shipping him to one farm and then sending him to another farm. Hopefully in the next few weeks, they’ll ink some type of deal.”
O’Neill discussed the affliction that forced I’ll Have Another to miss a chance at the Triple Crown. “Tendons are funky injuries,’’ he said. “He was never sore. It really is like the rubber band analogy; once they lose natural elasticity, it takes a long time to regain it, if ever. Where we are, if we gave him the proper time, we’d miss all of the breeding season next year. And with tendon injuries, sometimes they come back 60-80 per cent of what they were, and that wouldn’t be fair to the horse.”
The 44-year-old conditioner talked with gratitude about how much I’ll Have Another has meant to him. “Any way I can show him thanks is what I’m trying to do,’’ said O’Neill. “He took us on an amazing run. My love and respect for horses and horse racing became even greater because of him.
“It’s been an incredible ride, a real blast,’’ reflected O’Neill. “Because of I’ll Have Another, we got to do things we never would have done. The whole journey that happens with the Triple Crown is amazing. I hope and pray that we’ll have the same type of run with another horse down the road. We’re taking notes and we’re going to do it again.”
BONDE CONFIRMS AMARISH A GO FOR PROCTOR MEMORIAL SATURDAY
Jeff Bonde said by telephone Sunday from New York, where he saddled Smiling Tiger to a third place finish in the True North Handicap the day before at Belmont Park, that impressive 2-year-old maiden winner Amarish will start in the $100,000 Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes Saturday. The Proctor is at 5 ½ furlongs over Cushion Track.
“Everything looks great and (Edwin) Maldonado will ride him,” said Bonde.
Amarish, a son of Scat Daddy, broke his maiden by almost eight lengths in his career debut May 26th. The final time of :50 4/5 was the fastest for 4 1-2 furlongs during the Spring/Summer meet and was accomplished with little urging from his rider.
Concerning Smiling Tiger, Bonde couldn’t hide his disappointment. “He had trained so well going into the race, but he bobbled at the start and was shuffled back,’’ he said. “At one point, the track announcer (Tom Durkin) said he was 12 lengths back. It’s amazing that he was able to get up for third.”
Bonde reported he and Smiling Tiger will be returning to their home base at Betfair Hollywood Park Monday.
SATURDAY STAKES CONTESTANTS RETURN IN GOOD CONDITION
The winners of Saturday’s three stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park all returned in good condition, according to their respective trainers.
Don Warren, who sent out Acclamation for his third consecutive victory in the Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial, said the 6-year-old son of Unusual Heat looked “fine” Sunday morning.
Simon Callaghan, second in the Whittingham with Slim Shadey, said the runner came back sound and is doing very well, as is Byrama, who captured the Manhattan Beach Handicap earlier on the card.
Peter Eurton said My Gi Gi, an ultra game winner of the Grade II Honeymoon Handicap over 1-2 favorite Lady of Shamrock, also came back in good shape.
CLOSING STRIDES—Patrick Valenzuela pulled off quite a feat Sunday. The 49-year-old jockey had not ridden for 21 days while battling weight issues, but piloted Acclamation to victory in the Whittingham, his first mount back and only call on the afternoon….In Saturday’s ninth, the race immediately following the Belmont Stakes, the Vann Belvoir -trained Until You was a debut winner, returning $20.40. Until You is a 3-year-old gelding by Jazil, winner of the 2006 Belmont…… John Sadler reports that Joel Rosario will be aboard Zazu in Saturday’s Grade I Vanity Handicap, but is unsure who will ride Switch in Sunday’s Desert Stormer Handicap. Rosario, who will be serving a five-day suspension after losing an appeal for a previous infraction in January, can ride Zazu because the Vanity is a designated race……. Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano, who combined to win Saturday’s seventh race with Mile High Magic, are cruising atop the trainer and rider standings. Entering Sunday, Baffert, the defending Spring/Summer champion, has 21 victories, nine more than runner-up Sadler. Eight of Baffert’s wins have come in stakes races. Bejarano has built a 39-27 advantage over Joe Talamo. He picked up his ninth and tenth stakes victories Saturday thanks to Byrama in the Manhattan Beach and My Gi Gi in the Honeymoon….The four remaining players in the Show Me the Money Contest – Presented by Golden Nugget Las Vegas – selected Byrama Saturday to remain alive in the $3,000 winner-take-all challenge.
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