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O'Neill Barn in Festive Mood at Santa Anita

Perhaps no operation in California racing exemplifies the distinct cultural and physical spirit of the holiday season more than trainer Doug O’Neill’s.

Flourishing under his shed row is a miniature United Nations, without the political infighting. Ponder this: Team O’Neill’s crew includes African-Americans, Catholics, an Englishman, Irishmen, a Jamaican, a Mexican, a member of the Jewish faith, and true-blue Americans.

The diversity of ethnic and religious backgrounds blend harmoniously to form one of the nation’s most successful racing ventures, one which came within shouting distance of a Triple Crown bid in 2012 and one which has a Kentucky Derby victory, several Breeders’ Cup triumphs and consecutive wins in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on its enviable and expansive resume.

With 127 victories in 2013, Team O’Neill wins more races in one year than some trainers do in a lifetime, so the authenticity of its achievements and seriousness of purpose are self-evident. But there’s still time to stop and smell the roses, no pun intended, interspersed with an infusion of diplomatic banter.

“We have a smooth, well-run operation,” said O’Neill, a mellow 45-year-old Michigander, whose family’s traditional Midwestern values were implanted early on, mainly by his mother, Dixie.

“We are loose; we want everyone to enjoy being here, but everyone takes care of business and ideally has a good time doing it,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill’s barn crew consists of the aforementioned denominations, in addition to prominent owner J. Paul Reddam, a Canadian who is O’Neill’s chief client and whose colt I’ll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby and the Run for the Roses in 2012.

O’Neill and brother Dennis are Irish/Catholic; assistant trainer Leandro Mora is Mexican; assistant Jack Sisterson is English; and assistant Steve Rothblum is Jewish.

“It’s all out of love, but there’s a lot of fun that goes on between us,” O’Neill said. “We all come from different backgrounds, whether it be race or religion, but what it comes down to is we’re one big family.”

Asked how he harnessed a Jewish guy for his team, O’Neill responded with a good-natured quip: “Well,” he said, “We were looking for somebody to take care of the books.”

With the country, yea, the world, in seeming turmoil, what better time than the holiday season to promote levity, peace on earth, and good will towards men.     

 

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