Doug O'Neill and I'll Have Another

Doug O'Neill and I'll Have Another

Anne M. Eberhardt

O'Neill Content if His Horse Doesn't Win HOY

Dual classic winner I'll Have Another a "once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse," he says.

If trainer Doug O'Neill had his way, dual classic winner I'll Have Another  would be named 2012's Horse of the Year when the Eclipse Award winners are announced Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park.

The the 44-year-old trainer is a realist, however. He knows that the colt's early retirement due to a tendon injury means there's almost no chance of that happening.

I'll Have Another was 4-for-4 during his 2012 campaign, and was the nation's only three-time grade I winner on dirt, taking the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, and Preakness Stakes in succession. But 36 hours before he was set to take aim at becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, the son of Flower Alley was scratched from the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) by O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam.

As a result, I'll Have Another's chances of winning Horse of the Year are longer than the 43-1 odds he beat in winning his first race of the season, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II). Seven months, in the minds of most Eclipse voters, is a long time, meaning the award will likely go to favorite Wise Dan or Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned .

O'Neill can live with that.

"Obviously, we're very close to that picture, so it's hard to be real impartial, but he's Horse of the Year in our minds," O'Neill said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse. Anytime you win the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, that's quite a feat. The horse is a real champion.

"He brought (jockey) Mario Gutierrez world-wide recognition, and that was huge in itself. I'll Have Another was great to us and I think great for racing."

I'll Have Another has since been sold and retired to stud in Japan.

Noting the success that Fort Larned and Wise Dan had at the Breeders' Cup, O'Neill added, "I do think if you're not running on Breeders' Cup day, the voters definitely look down on that. Because I'll Have Another didn't compete the last half of the year, he wasn't fresh in their minds.

"Still, it's an honor to be nominated," O'Neill said. "We're all going to Florida and have a fun time. Win, lose or draw, we're going to have a great time."

Team O'Neill can take solace with a likely Eclipse Award for I'll Have Another as outstanding 3-year-old male of 2012. But O'Neill, never one to count his chickens before they hatch, was prepared in any case.

"We should be good there," he said of the 3-year-old award, "and if we're not, that's OK too."

O'Neill said he is looking forward to another Triple Crown campaign. His top candidate at this point, Goldencents , won the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Park Jan. 5. The trainer indicated that the son of Into Mischief  could next go in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 9.

"We're going to meet with his owners next week," O'Neill said, "but one of the things we've talked about is maybe the San Felipe being his next start."

Goldencents is owned by Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino's RAP Racing, W. C. Racing, and Dave Kenney.