It's one of the most elusive prizes in all of sports, winning the three races that comprise thoroughbred racing’s coveted Triple Crown.
But Irish American trainer Doug O’Neill, the affable trainer of the latest contender, I’ll Have Another, is confident that his charge, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in thrilling fashion, is up to the monumental challenge on Saturday for the mile and a half last jewel in the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
And if he gets a decent dollop of the luck of the Irish? Well, O’Neill will be extra pleased.
During an interview with the Irish Voice on Tuesday afternoon at a Belmont Stakes media luncheon in New York, O’Neill spoke about his Irish roots, an enjoyable trip to Ireland where he took in the Irish Derby a few years back . . . and, of course, his superstar colt, I’ll Have Another, a Kentucky-bred horse who’s taken the world by storm these past five weeks of the Triple Crown season, earning more than $2.6 million in the process.
O’Neill, 44, a top Southern California-based trainer who’s enjoyed significant success in the winner’s circle before, having conditioned three Breeders’ Cup winners, said that his great-grandparents were Famine emigrants.
“It’s obviously from my father’s side. My father’s grandparents emigrated from Ireland to Nova Scotia, and then his parents came from Nova Scotia to Michigan. I was born in Michigan and then we came to California,” he said.
O’Neill visited Co. Kildare to take in the Irish Derby at the Curragh a few years ago, and enjoyed every minute of the trip.
“It was terrific,” he said. “We stayed at a former convent that was turned into a hotel. They even had a bar downstairs called the Nun’s Kitchen, so it’s still had a lot of remnants of all these nuns running around! But it was great. I loved it and would love to go back again.”
When asked if he would bring his prize colt across the Atlantic for a race in the future O’Neill smiled. “You never know. I’d like that, yes.
“And I’d love to have the luck of the Irish on Saturday. I’ll be wearing my lucky shamrock tie!”
O’Neill couldn’t be more pleased with how I’ll Have Another is adapting to his temporary home in New York.
“He checks everything out and lays down, gets up and eats and lays back down. You know he’s just a wonderful horse,” he said.
“There are silly tings things you’ve got to think about, when you’re looking for a safe area to put a champ like him. But he’s great.”
When asked who the colt’s biggest challenge would be come post time on Saturday at 6:40 p.m. at Belmont Park, O’Neill said he respected all of the 10 challengers, but his biggest worry would be about potential off the track issues.
“My biggest fear is I’ll Have waking up with a headache or something and not feeling like running,” O’Neill said.
“I think if he shows up and runs his race, well, I think he’s going to be very tough to beat.”
I’ll Have Another will be ridden by Mexican jockey Mario Gutierrez, 25, who’s been aboard the colt for his wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Gutierrez will seek to guide I’ll Have Another to the nation’s first Triple Crown victory since 1978, when Affirmed, with teen sensation Steve Cauthen aboard, captured all three jewels.
The Belmont Stakes will be shown live on NBC.