The 25-year-old Garcia, who had not been aboard I’ll Have Another since he added the Preakness to his victory in the Kentucky Derby, said the chestnut colt felt just the same as he did before winning the first two legs of racing’s Triple Crown.
O’Neill had nothing but praise for Gomez and Hector Ramos, who had filled in for Garcia at Belmont while he went to visit his family and then awaited his license to work as an exercise rider in New York, which he received Monday evening.
“I’ll Have Another has looked good every day here, but it’s nice having Jonny back on him and having Jonny tell me how he feels so good, that he’s handling the surface great and is stretching as good as ever,” said the trainer. “He’s been on him since Day 1. So that’s definitely an added bonus to a great day.”
I’ll Have Another, who noticeably picked up the pace coming through the stretch Tuesday morning, is scheduled to gallop into the 1 ½-mile Belmont, in which he is seeking to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
“He gallops strong,” said O’Neill. “We’re not too worried about the times, more so with how he’s moving and switching leads out there. You can tell, especially with the four white polo bandages, by the dirt covering all four bandages equally, how he’s switching properly all the way around. I was very happy with the way he looked today.”
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Richard Migliore knows his away around the Belmont Park oval, having won 1,352 races from 9,922 mounts at the venue during his 30-plus year career. During the week of the Belmont Stakes, the retired jockey will share his Belmont expertise by circumnavigating the 1 ½-mile main track on horseback with Mario Gutierrez, who will attempt to sweep the Triple Crown aboard I’ll Have Another in the June 9 Belmont Stakes.
During the tour, which likely will be conducted June 6 or 7, Migliore will ride five-time Grade 1 winner Lava Man, who now serves as I’ll Have Another’s pony. Gutierrez will be aboard a horse from trainer Doug O’Neill’s barn that has yet to be determined. In 2007, Migiliore guided Student Council to an upset victory over Lava Man in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
In addition to serving as a television analyst for NYRA, Migliore works as a racing office associate and oversees the association’s apprentice jockey program.
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Trainer Dale Romans was beaming Tuesday, the morning after he saddled Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and the Phillips Racing Partnership’s Shackleford to a front-running nose victory in Belmont’s Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.
“I think that was one of the most important wins of my career,” said Romans, who had previously won the Whitney Handicap and Dubai World Cup with Roses In May, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational with Kitten’s Joy, the Preakness with Shackleford, and the Breeders’ Cup Mile with Court Vision. “It’s a prestigious race for a stallion, and with his body of work, to put that on his resume puts him over the top. He should make a great stallion. He’s so sound, never had any issues. He’s got speed and endurance. It’s just a tough combination.”
Romans said the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November will be the long-term objective for Shackleford, who will now get a few days of rest at WinStar Farm in Kentucky.
“We started with the Met Mile and worked back to the beginning of the year, and now we’ll start with the Breeders’ Cup and work back,” said Romans. “There’s nothing to say he won’t go a mile and an eighth. The Whitney [Handicap, Grade 1, $750,000, August 4, Saratoga Race Course] is out there. So is the Woodward [Grade 1, $750,000, September 1, Saratoga]. There are some interesting things to think about.”
Romans, who declared last week that the Met Mile could end up being the “race of the year,” lauded Shackleford for how he used his speed to run To Honor and Serve and Jackson Bend into submission, and then held off a late bid from Caleb’s Posse.
“It looked like the momentum was going to take [Caleb’s Posse] by, but when he got next to him I think they could have gone around again and he wouldn’t have gotten by,” said Romans. “I think it’s a good rivalry we have going [with Caleb’s Posse]. [Shackleford] beat all the best yesterday. The race lived up to the hype, which is rare in any sporting event.”
Romans said his Belmont Stakes contender, Donegal Racing’s Dullahan, jogged this morning under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar. Dullahan, who bypassed the Preakness after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, is scheduled to breeze at Belmont on Saturday. He turned in a 1:43 one-mile breeze at Churchill Downs on May 26.
“We’ll start getting serious tomorrow,” said Romans. “The good thing with skipping the Preakness is that you do more when you train. When you go back in two weeks and back in three weeks, it limits you to be ready for the mile and a half. We’ve tried doing some old school stuff, like longer, slower gallops and longer works. We’ll see if it pays off.”
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In addition to Shackleford, the connections of the other three Memorial Day stakes winners – Grade 2 Sands Point victress Better Lucky, Grade 1 Acorn heroine Contested, and Grade 1 Ogden Phipps winner It’s Tricky – reported Tuesday morning that their horses came out of their respective races in good order, and that future plans had yet to be determined.
“We’re just too excited,” said Bob Baffert, who spoke via telephone and who trains Contested for his wife, Jill. “We’ve never owned a horse this good. If I were training her for someone else, I could tell you exactly what we were going to do. She’s really just coming to hand right now, and I want to space her races out.”
It’s Tricky, who earned her third Grade 1 with her hard-fought victory over Cash for Clunkers, eagerly munched on a special treat of dandelion roots and leaves in her stall as her future plans remain undecided as well.
“She’s great,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We don’t know what we’re going to do next with her, though.”
Better Lucky, whose Sands Point victory came in her turf debut, also emerged from her race in good shape, said trainer Tom Albertrani.
“The thing with her now is we can go either way, grass or dirt,” he said. “It opens up a lot of options.”
Albertrani added that Zo Impressive, second to Contested in the Acorn, would most likely start next in the Grade 1 Mother Goose on June 23, and that Buffum, winner of an optional claimer, was under consideration for the Grade 2 Suburban on July 7.