Doug O’Neill holds a slight lead over onrushing Peter Miller in his bid for a fourth Santa Anita training title. With five racing days remaining in the inaugural Spring Meet, the Michigan native who turned 46 on May 24 held a 24-21 lead over runner-up Miller, who sent out the first three winners Friday and one Saturday to close the gap.
O’Neill’s numbers show marked improvement from the recent Santa Anita Winter Meet, where, while he won 23 races, it was from 212 starters, an 11 percent average. With 24 wins from 108 starters this meet, O’Neill’s average has doubled to 22 percent.
“It’s a cyclical sport,” O’Neill said. “You have your peaks and valleys and we had a major valley early on. Hopefully, we haven’t peaked, but we’re in a good run right now. Things are going well, and it just seems to go like that.
“We’re going to ride it as long as we can, and when we start dipping into a valley, we’ll start making adjustments and maybe try and run our horses in softer spots. You just have to try and stay strong through all the highs and lows.”
As to the new Southern California racing landscape due to the closing of Hollywood Park last December, O’Neill, like his peers, is making the adjustment.
“It’s unique,” he said. “I think it’s the first time ever that there are three condition books out—the last Santa Anita, Los Alamitos and the first Del Mar. It’s a challenging time. I feel bad for the racing secretaries because they’ve got to try and fill these races.
“As horsemen, you’ve got all these options. You’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of your horse, so it’s a challenging time, but I think we’ve got three really solid surfaces, solid barn areas, and although none of us like change, I think we’re heading the right way.”