Doug O’Neill wrapped up the Del Mar summer meet tied for fifth place in the trainer’s standings with 14 winners from 146 starters and earnings of $1,043,000. It was not the most prolific of Del Mar stand’s for the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer. But it will do.
“We’re always hoping to be a little more successful than we were this year,” O’Neill told Horse Racing Nation. “But the horses tried hard and came out of their races and works in great shape. At the end of the day, you just want safe racing surfaces on the dirt and the turf and I think we got that this year. So very happy.”
In the midst of his stable’s transition back to Santa Anita from Del Mar on Wednesday, O’Neill provided updates for five of his top horses for this latest HRN Barn Tour.
Hot Rod Charlie. The Oxbow colt, unraced since being disqualified from the win in the July 17 Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park for stretch interference, remains on target for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on Sept. 25 at Parx.
Hot Rod Charlie worked three times at Del Mar starting Aug. 21, which includes a six-furlong drill in 1:13.8 last Saturday. He is scheduled to work two more times at Santa Anita before shipping to Parx on Sept. 18.
O’Neill said Hot Rod Charlie will likely have an easier five-furlong work this weekend before dialing things back up in his final breeze before shipping.
“It will be more of a maintenance move,” O’Neill said of Hot Rod Charlie’s next work. “Whenever I switch surfaces, I’m conscious of that and don’t like to have them do too much in a first workout. So I’ll get him settled in and then have a chance to work him a little more firmly the following week.”
Mackinnon. He provided O’Neill with his only stakes win of the Del Mar meet when powering to a 1 3/4-length victory in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf on closing day Monday. The American Pharoah colt had earned his diploma six weeks earlier at Del Mar when making his third start and second on grass.
In the Del Mar Juvenile Turf, Mackinnon – who is owned in part by NHL player Erik Johnson – stalked the pace before uncorking an outside rally under Juan Hernandez.
“Mid race, I wasn’t really sure if we were in a good spot or not,” O’Neill said. “But when Juan called on him and kicked him into gear, that was pretty impressive the way he finished.”
Johnson’s ERJ Racing purchased Mackinnon for $285,000 at this year’s Fasig-Tipton March 2-year-olds in training sale.
“He definitely came with some high expectations. He was a pretty big purchase,” O’Neill said. "But right from the get-go he was a horse that’s enjoyed exercising and working. I was actually surprised he didn’t run better on the dirt (in his debut) as he had been training so well on dirt. But it sure looks like his home is definitely on the grass.”
O’Neill said a start in the $200,000 Zuma Beach Stakes going a mile on turf at Santa Anita Oct. 3 is on the radar. However, he is also considering skipping the race.
“That’s the plan for now,” O’Neill said of going in the Zuma Beach. “But we have also talked about maybe training him up to the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Turf on Nov. 5 at Del Mar). We’ll need to do a little more homework on that.”
If O’Neill was to bypass the Zuma Beach with Mackinnon, he would join other trainers that are planning to skip the final round of Breeders’ Cup preps with some of their contenders.
“Yeah it could be (a trend),” O’Neill said of entering the Breeders’ Cup off longer breaks. “It’s just so important to have a horse that is full of energy and hitting the ground perfectly in these races because you don’t want to have any hiccups. It’s made connections, owners and trainers, a little more conservative and looking at more spacing between races. That’s probably what we’re seeing in this scenario.”
Hockey Dad. It was an active summer at Del Mar for the 3-year-old Nyquist colt, who was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail in the spring. After finishing off the board in the Lexington Stakes (G3) on dirt at Keeneland in April, he returned opening day at Del Mar and checked in fourth in the one-mile Oceanside Stakes on turf when breaking from the far outside.
Hockey Dad returned 28 days later to finish second by a head in a first-level allowance/optional claimer on Aug 12 then closed out the stand with a third-place finish Monday in the Del Mar Derby (G2) when beaten less than a length.
O’Neill said Hockey Dad could return to dirt in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby (G3) on Sept. 26 at Remington Park.
“He looks great; he came out of the (Del Mar Derby) in great shape,” O’Neill said. “That was a great race. He’s such a cool horse. I think he’s got the ability, if he stays injury free, to win a big one one of these days. He acts like a quality colt on a daily basis.”
A homebred for Reddam Racing, Hockey Dad has a record of 9: 3-1-2 with earnings of $188,140.
The Great One. He also took a shot on the Derby trail earlier this year when finishing off the board in both the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1). Following a brief freshening, he returned in the Aug. 29 Shared Belief featuring Medina Spirit and Rock Your World and checked in fourth.
The son of Nyquist may also be headed to turf for his next start.
“He looks great, came out of the race in really good shape,” O’Neill said. “We are considering trying him in an allowance turf race at Santa Anita next time out.”
Team Merchants. After returning from a 9 1/2-month layoff in a Santa Anita allowance on May 2, he came back on opening day at Del Mar to beat similar foes sprinting on dirt. He was subsequently stretched out to two turns for the one-mile Shared Belief. After breaking sharply under Mario Gutierrez, he was taken back into an outside stalking position, per pre-race discussions, before fading in the stretch.
“I thought he was another that ran well. For a split second there it looked like he was the one to beat, but then he got tired at the end,” O’Neill said. He further elaborated on the tactics employed in the Shared Belief.
“The thought was he would be laying behind a couple of speed horses,” O’Neill continued. “I don’t think any of us, Mario included, thought he would break with so much energy. I think Mario had in his head what we had talked about prior to the race. So it was just one of those things. We definitely did talk prior to the race, thinking he would be laying in the garden spot. Team Merchants had other thoughts when the gates opened.”
Another homebred for Reddam Racing, Team Merchants is also a candidate for the Oklahoma Derby, O’Neill said.