Hollywood's Leading Trainer Full of Surprises

The year 2002 is a memorable one for Doug O'Neill.

In July, the 34-year-old trainer scored the biggest victory of his career with Sky Jack in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).

In September, O'Neill and wife Linette became proud parents of their first child, a son, Daniel.

Entering the final weekend of the Hollywood Park Autumn Meet, O'Neill stands on the threshold of his first training title at a major meet.

"It's amazing; it's a pretty great feeling," said O'Neill Thursday from his stable office at Barn 73 West. "It's a credit to the people we have working for us. It's something that whatever upcoming meets bring, it shows if we have the right horses, we can get it done."

O'Neill entered the final four days of the meet with 15 victories, five more than runner-up Bobby Frankel.

O'Neill has been a steadily rising force on the circuit since taking out his license in 1994. He tied for second in meet standings at Hollywood last autumn with 10 wins and was runner-up to Frankel at the track's spring/summer meet with 18 firsts.

"My stable has grown from about 30 to 50 horses this year," said O'Neill after working stakes winners Avanzado and Lil Sister Stich. He has won with 78 of 392 starters, a 20 per cent clip, during his best year ever.

"Hiring Leandro Mora as my assistant has also been a big help," said O'Neill. "He knows 90 percent of the grooms and hot walkers out here and knows who to hire." Mora, a long-time assistant to the late Brian Mayberry, worked for Tim Pinfield until Pinfield took another position in Singapore in May.

Surprisingly, O'Neill's favorite race this year was not one that he won.

"Even though he got beat in a photo, Fleetstreet Dancer ran a great race in the Native Diver," he said.

O'Neill had claimed the 4-year-old gelding for $40,000.

"And Cee's Elegance winning the Cat's Cradle had us pushing our chests out," he added.

O'Neill would put an exclamation point on the meet and a dream year with an upset victory by Coax Kid in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) for 2-year-olds on Saturday.

"It's not like he ran a fluky race when he broke his maiden last time out," said O'Neill. "But with horses like Kafwain and Toccet in there, it would be incredible just to be placed."