NEW YORK (AP) Trainer Doug O’Neill is taking an unconventional path to a Triple Crown bid by using a series of strong gallops rather than formal workouts to prepare I’ll Have Another for the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
“There will be a lot of days when I’ll Have Another, strictly galloping, will pass a lot of workers,” O’Neill said Sunday morning after taking a red-eye flight from his West Coast base and being reunited with his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.
The last three Triple Crown champions, Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978), all drilled at least one mile in preparation for the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion.” The Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races.
O’Neill said his plan has everything to do with the vigor the colt brings to his daily morning regimen.
“If anyone got a chance to see him, he stretches and puts a lot of effort into his morning gallops,” he said.
I’ll Have Another was shipped to Belmont Park the morning after little-known jockey Mario Gutierrez, 25, ran down Bodemeister by a neck in the Preakness on May 19. His trainer was encouraged by everything he observed.
“His appetite is strong, his stride is great and his coat is there,” he said.
O’Neill added, “We have all the confidence in the world in I’ll Have Another. As long as he stays healthy and injury-free, we think he’ll be very tough.”
His pre-race handling of the colt is likely to spark discussion and debate. Seattle Slew, for instance, was given three workouts to fortify him for the Belmont marathon. He went three furlongs in a sizzling 354⁄5 seconds the day before he beat Run Dusty Run by four lengths.
I’ll Have Another appears to be well-prepared for the challenge ahead from a freshness standpoint. Shin problems sidelined him after he ran sixth in the Hopeful last Sept. 5, ending his 2-year-old season with three starts. He was the fifth consecutive Derby winner to compete in two prep races, pulling an upset at 43-1 in the Robert Lewis on Feb. 4 before edging Creative Cause by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.