Trainer Doug O'Neill: 'It's All Just Surreal'

Trainer Doug O'Neill: 'It's All Just Surreal'
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Doug O'Neill kissing the Kentucky Derby trophy.
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As he basked in the glow of winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) the day before, trainer Doug O’Neill said the morning of May 6 that he gets “goosebumps” when thinking about the possibility of I'll Have Another   becoming the next Triple Crown winner.

“I think this colt is the kind of colt who can maintain his form and keep it going,” the affable, hard-working O’Neill said when asked about the potential of the son of Flower Alley   becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. “It gives me goosebumps to even think about.

“He’s just a special horse who I think has a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time. He’s got such a beautiful stride and such a beautiful mind. He is just a special horse…Not only is he physically impressive, but mentally he is a tough son of a gun.”

While O’Neill said “we would love to shoot for the Triple Crown,” he added a cautionary note. “We will only do it if he takes us there…We’re going to do the right thing, whatever that is.”

O’Neill said the reality that he won the 138th Derby with Paul Reddam's colt had not settled in, although his family keeps reminding him of the achievement. After all, they have special incentive to let their father know what he has done.

“I told my (two) kids a couple of weeks ago that if I won the Derby I would get them a hot tub, so that’s all they can talk about now. That’s sinking in, the fact we are going to have to go hot tub shopping here in a couple of days.”

Crediting his stable crew that includes his brother, Dennis, O’Neill said winning the Derby is “an incredible feeling and it is all the result of the great grooms we have, hot walkers, chiropractors, exercise riders…we have a great team here.

“It’s all just surreal—to be the 138th team to do this is really incredible.”

In recalling his reaction as the Derby unfolded with his colt making a run in the stretch, O’Neill said was standing at the rail with some of his stable personnel and that is was hard to see what was going on.

“We could see that he was catching them inside the eighth pole and we were just going nuts,” O’Neill said. “When they were turning for home, it looked like the horse on the lead (Bodemeister  )—I didn’t know who it was—was kicking clear and I thought, ‘Oh well, let’s run second. In mid-stretch, you could tell he was gaining. What an unbelievable ride by Mario (Gutierrez).”

Asked about where winning the Derby ranks in his lifetime achievements, the trainer said “getting married and having two beautiful kids (are tops), but this has to rank right up there. It’s top five for sure.

“Right now, it’s the top one,” O’Neill said before jokingly adding, “but my wife and kids will go ‘you bastard'.”

O’Neill said he will not waste any time in sending I’ll Have Another on to Pimlico Race Course for the May 19 Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The chestnut colt is scheduled to leave Louisville May 7.

“We thought getting over there and getting settled in would be good,” said O’Neill, who added that he has little experience with racing horses at Pimlico.

O’Neill said he would return to Southern California later May 6 because he has 65 other horses to care for and then return to the East Coast for the Preakness as the race draws closer.
 

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