Trainer Doug O'Neill sets record for wins at Oak Tree meeting.

Trainer Doug O'Neill sets record for wins at Oak Tree meeting.

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Doug O'Neill Eclipses Baffert's Oak Tree Mark

Doug O'Neill broke Bob Baffert's record for most victories at Santa Anita's brief Oak Tree meeting when he saddled Long Gone Con to victory in a $62,500 optional claiming allowance event Wednesday.

O'Neill, a 35-year-old native of Dearborn, Michigan, surpassed Baffert's record of 21 wins established in 1998 and matched in 1999 in the day's fifth race. He equaled the old mark on Oct. 31.

"You never expect this (when a meet starts)," he said. "It's just been incredible and there have been a lot of horses that we've dropped out of straight maidens into maiden claimers, and we've claimed some for above what we've run them for. It's just been a great team effort.

"We've had a few run poorly that you scratch your head about, but everything's kind of clicked and all in all it's been an incredible meet. Hopefully we can keep it going."

Through 28 days of the 32-day meeting, O'Neill had 22 wins, 12 seconds and nine thirds from 65 starters, a winning percentage of .338 and an in-the-money mark of .661.

O'Neill has a number of opportunities to strengthen the record at the meet. He has 13 horses entered on Saturday's California Cup XIV card, including 2-1 morning line favorite Sky Jack in the $250,000 Classic.

O'Neill gave credit to his owners and his staff for much of his success.

"I'm on the phone 80% of the morning and Leandro (assistant Leandro Mora) is busting his butt making sure everything's going right with the hot walkers and the grooms,' O'Neill said. "He's doing all the real hard labor, so it's just been a great combination and it's been great so far."

Long Gone Con, ridden by Victor Espinoza, won by 3 1/2 lengths while going gate to wire as the 5-2 second choice in the field of seven. The 5-year-old California-bred Restless Con gelding was making his first start on the main track following four consecutive turf efforts. He won against $80,000 claimers on the turf June 26 when O'Neill claimed him for the partnership of King Arthur Farms, Richmond and Wellman.

Long Gone Con won for the fourth time in 12 starts on dirt. Overall, he's 6 for 22.

Long Gone Con, the lone starter racing for a tag, was claimed Wednesday by trainer Art Sherman for $62,500.

O'Neill had his breakthrough year in 2002, when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) with Sky Jack. He won eight stakes races last year and earned his first major training title during Hollywood Park's autumn meeting while finishing in the top 40 among trainers nationwide with $3.2 million in earnings. He won the Hollywood Park spring/summer meet's training title this year.

(Chart, Equibase)