“He just skipped over [the track],” said O’Neill, speaking at his first daily press briefing after arriving from California earlier in the morning. “He looked great. The first couple of days we were at Pimlico the track had a light seal on it, so he skipped over that as well. It didn’t seem to bother him at all.
O’Neill had not personally seen the chestnut colt since he departed Pimlico one week ago as racing’s latest Triple Crown hopeful, looking to end the 34-year drought that has persisted since 1978, when Affirmed became the 11th and most recent horse to sweep the series.
“We have all the confidence in the world in I’ll Have Another,” he said. “As long as he continues to stay injury-free and healthy, I think he’s going to be very tough.”
O’Neill said that because I’ll Have Another puts so much energy into his daily gallops, he will most likely go into the 1 ½-mile Belmont without an official timed work between the final two legs of the Triple Crown.
“There will be a lot of days when, strictly galloping, I’ll Have Another will pass workers,” said O’Neill. “He gallops like an average horse works. I think the amount of energy he puts into his gallops is the reason why an official workout isn’t important, in my mind.”
The remaining members of “Team O’Neill” would likely arrive in New York the week of the Belmont, with owner J. Paul Reddam coming in either June 5 or 6 and jockey Mario Gutierrez scheduled to come in on June 5. O’Neill said the plan was for the 25-year-old Gutierrez, who has never ridden in New York, to have from 5-10 mounts at Belmont in order to become accustomed to the 1 ½-mile track’s unique dimensions.
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Zayat Stables’ Belmont Stakes hopeful Paynter drilled five furlongs over the Belmont Park training track Sunday morning, covering the distance under exercise rider Simon Harris in 59.26, the fastest of 38 recorded works at the distance.
“He worked nice,” said Jim Barnes, assistant to the colt’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert. “We were planning on the main track, but they sealed the main track, so we opted for the training track. They went out at 9:30, after the second break. Bob told me to go in a minute, and that’s about as close to a minute as I can get.”
A son of Awesome Again, Paynter easily broke his maiden going 5 ½ furlongs at Santa Anita in February, and in his next start finished a respectable fourth behind I’ll Have Another in the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby en route to a runner-up finish behind Hierro in the Grade 3, one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs. Eight days ago, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 106 for a front-running 1 1/16-mile allowance victory at Pimlico.
“Bob told me to get the work out of the way today,” said Barnes. “He ran eight days ago, but we’re dealing with weather. They’re expecting more rain tonight than they got today, so what’s another day? The horse’s energy level is great, and he’s lightly raced. He’s only run four times, and he’s got to go a mile and a half. You train him a little differently than you train a horse that’s already gone through the Triple Crown races. Just to get to the Triple Crown races is grueling enough as it is. Can he go a mile and half? None of them have, so you really don’t know, but you’re hoping. Pedigree says he should and I definitely think we brought a fresh horse here, so that’s going to help.”
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Godolphin Racing’s Alpha breezed five furlongs over the Belmont training track shortly after 6:15 Sunday morning. Sent out under exercise rider Ricardo Ponce, he was clocked in 1:01.93 for his second breeze following a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
“We worked early, called an audible. Nothing new with Alpha, calling an audible,” joked trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, referring to Alpha’s fluid schedule of preps leading up to the Derby. Everything went well, he’s doing very well, and so far, we’re planning on running [in the Belmont] with Ramon Dominguez.”
Piloted by Dominguez at Aqueduct Racetrack this winter, Alpha won a pair of stakes – the Count Fleet and the Grade 3 Withers – and missed by a neck to Gemologist in the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial. The son of Bernardini has been first or second in all but two of his career starts – the Derby, and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he finished 11th. Both off-the-board finishes came at Churchill Downs.
“We’re just going to throw out the Churchill Downs races,” said McLaughlin, who won the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil. “He doesn’t like it there. I have a lot of respect for three or four horses [pointing for the Belmont]. I’ll Have Another, Union Rags, Dullahan…but you never know with this mile and a half. You never know. You just have to play each horse as an individual, and take it day by day.”
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Trainer Manuel Azpurua confirmed Sunday morning that Ravelo’s Boy is likely Belmont Stakes-bound after the Lawyer Ron colt worked seven furlongs at Calder Race Course in 1:28.20.
“He worked very good,” said Azpurua. “I’m so pleased about it. Alex Solis came to work him. I just told him to leave easy, and finish strong, and he did. He never asked him to run, he let him go on his own.”
Azpurua said Solis had committed to ride Ravelo’s Boy in the Belmont Stakes, and added that the horse is scheduled to arrive at Belmont Park by van early on the morning of Tuesday, June 5. Among those considered probable for the Belmont Stakes, Ravelo’s Boy possesses the most racing experience, having assembled a 2-0-2 record from 13 career starts. He finished fifth behind Prospective in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10, his most recent race.
“If everything keeps going the way it has been, if we keep going along good, we’ll be there and we’ll see what we can do,” the trainer said.
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Trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal said Sunday that his Belmont Stakes hopeful, Guyana Star Dweej, would probably breeze a half-mile Monday after plans to breeze this morning were abandoned.
“The [main] track was sealed, so we changed it to most likely tomorrow,” said Shivmangal. “He went for a nice little gallop on the main track today. We want to breeze him on the main track, weather permitting, but we’ll see which track suits us better tomorrow. Today, most people worked here.”
Guyana Star Dweej finished second in an April 27 allowance race at Belmont behind fellow Belmont Stakes contender Unstoppable U.