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Breeders' Cup 2017

O'Neill Focused on 2013 Kentucky Derby

Doug O’Neill enjoyed a life-changing experience with I’ll Have Another in 2012. The 44-year-old trainer conditioned the upstart 3-year-old to unexpected victories in three Grade I races, the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes before an 11th-hour tendon injury forced him to abort a Triple Crown attempt in the Belmont Stakes.

But life goes on, and now O’Neill is focused on another run in the Classic 3-year-old races, starting in Saturday’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile with Delta Jackpot winner and Champagne Stakes runner-up Goldencents, owned in part by coaching great Rick Pitino, currently directing basketball operations at the University of Louisville.

The Champagne was Goldencents’ only defeat, coming at the hands of unbeaten Shanghai Bobby, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the overwhelming favorite to win an Eclipse Award in that division.

“He worked in 1:10.20 last Thursday and if you didn’t have a stop watch, you’d have thought he went (in) 1:14 or 1:15, just cruising,” O’Neill said of Goldencents. “I did have a stop watch on him, and as I looked down and saw one-ten and change, it was just, wow! It was really amazing.

“He came out of it in great shape, full of energy, and it’s just one day at a time. He’s got to stay injury-free but he’s a real, real exciting prospect.”

O’Neill has another promising sophomore in recent acquisition Mudflats, scheduled to run in the $200,000 Jerome at Aqueduct, also on Saturday.

“He looked really good,” said O’Neill, just back from New York where he visited the gray son of Tapit first hand. “He reminds a lot of a younger version of Sky Jack (winner of the 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup). He’s got that same physique.

“You can tell he’s a real feisty guy, but at the same time, real chilled out in the stall. He’s got the right demeanor and the right pedigree to be a good horse, so hopefully he can move forward off his big maiden win.” Mudflats broke his maiden at seven furlongs with a 3 ¼-length victory on Aqueduct’s sloppy track Dec. 8.

On the puzzling side, O’Neill plans to go back to square one with Know More, who finished sixth and last in a six furlong allowance race Friday, beaten 21 ½ lengths.

“That’s a head-scratcher,” O’Neill said of the winner of the Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar last summer. “I put blinkers on thinking it would add something to him. Obviously, that didn’t do it, but he came out of it in great shape.

“We’re going to regroup. Like Trevor (Denman) says, ‘They’re not machines,’ so he just needs to be recalibrated and we’ll get him figured out.”

As for veteran stretch-running stakes winner Richard’s Kid, he is ticketed for distance races, the longer the better, starting with the Grade II San Marcos Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on turf Feb. 9, and beyond that the Grade III Tokyo City Cup at 1 ½ miles on dirt March 23.

“He looks great, he looks super,” O’Neill said.

Not as great or super as the year Team O’Neill had with I’ll Have Another, a slam dunk to win an Eclipse Award as 2012’s outstanding male 3-year-old, and a contender for Horse of the Year honors, even though his chances nose dived because he didn’t race the last seven months of the year.

“It was an unbelievable ride,” O’Neill said. “When you go back to the Hopeful of 2011 when I’ll Have Another didn’t fire and came out of the race with sore shins, and you think of him busting out and winning the Bob Lewis at a big number (43-1) and having the year he did, it was incredible.

“Because of that, our barn got a little swag to it knowing now that if we get a good enough horse, we have the staff, we have the team, we have the confidence that we can do it again.

“I just smile inside thinking back to what a great time it was.”

The field for the Sham, which goes as race three: Den’s Legacy, Garrett Gomez; Goldencents, Kevin Krigger; Greeley Awesome, Mario Gutierrez; Dry Summer, Joe Talamo; Dirty Swagg, Tyler Baze; and Manando, Martin Garcia.



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