“We took him to the track and jogged him once around, and he looked absolutely super,” said Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill. “The way he looked was everything and more I’d want to see in him. Energy level was high, got over the ground well, ate up everything last night. Just looks super. He came out of the Derby in the exact same shape, and came out of the Preakness, if not the same, probably better.”
“We’ll probably do the same thing at the same time tomorrow, right after the break,” he said. “He’s cooling out great right there; there’s no reason we shouldn’t do the same thing tomorrow, [and gallop] possibly Friday. We’ll take each day as it comes.”
Sisterson said the morale of “Team O’Neill” is sky-high as I’ll Have Another tries to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.
“I think it hasn’t quite sunk in, the position that we’re in,” he said. “We go out to dinner and lunch, and we always pull out our phones and watch the replays. It sends shivers down our spines. It’s just super.”
O’Neill will likely arrive in New York sometime this weekend, said Sisterson.
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Also returning to the track for light work on Wednesday was Paynter, whose connections are considering a start in the Belmont Stakes.
On Saturday, Paynter easily won a Pimlico allowance as the 1-10 favorite. Paynter, like Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for owner Zayat Stables.
“[Paynter] looks good and has a good energy level,” Jim Barnes, assistant to Baffert, reported from Belmont on Wednesday.
Paynter was fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, won by I’ll Have Another, on April 7. He entered Saturday’s allowance race off a second in the Grade 3 Derby Trial on April 28 at Churchill Downs.
Bodemeister will bypass the Belmont, his connections have said.
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Trainer Michael Matz said that Union Rags will work either tomorrow or Friday at Fair Hill training center in preparation for the Belmont, in which he will have the services of new jockey John Velazquez.
“He’s doing very well,” said Matz during a Wednesday teleconference. “He might work tomorrow, maybe Friday. Mrs. [Phyllis] Wyeth is on her way back from Maine, and if she wants to see him work we’ll do it tomorrow or Friday. We’re hoping John Velazquez will work him in his last work [the following weekend].”
Union Rags was 3-1-0 from four starts as a 2-year-old, including a score in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont, and won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth by four imposing lengths in his 2012 debut. After he ran into traffic problems in both the Grade 1 Florida Derby, in which he was third, and the Kentucky Derby, in which he was seventh, Velazquez was named aboard the Dixie Union colt.
“It’s been frustrating, I don’t think in either of his last two races he got a chance to really run,” said Matz of Union Rags. “I just hope he gets a clean trip. Whether he’s good enough to beat [I’ll Have Another], I don’t know. I just want him to get a clean trip and show what he can do.
“I wouldn’t be going in [the Belmont] if I didn’t think he could beat I’ll Have Another,” he added. “He’s a big horse, and once he gets into a nice rhythm … that’s why we went with John Velazquez. He knows New York.”
Matz said travel plans for Union Rags were still undetermined.
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If Dullahan were to spoil the Triple Crown bid, would trainer Dale Romans feel any remorse.
“Absolutely not,” Romans said without hesitation during a Wednesday teleconference. “I think we owe it to the past Triple Crown winners to make [I’ll Have Another] earn it. If he’s a super horse, like Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Secretariat, and some of our past Triple Crown winners, then he’ll win it. If not, we’ll be able to beat him.”
Dullahan, who is trained by Romans for Donegal Racing, will not have to make up much ground in order to defeat I’ll Have Another as he finished third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths, in the Kentucky Derby.
Romans said he recently received advice on how to prepare Dullahan for the Belmont’s 1 ½-mile distance from an 80-year-old retired groom who used to work for his father, Jerry Romans.
“He told me, ‘Just remember, nature will take a horse a mile and an eighth, but you have teach one to go a mile and a half,’” Romans shared. “We’ve been changing the small things. Like instead of a mile-and-half, we go on two-and-a-half-mile gallops with him and galloping him before we breeze, just little things to try to teach him to go a little further, mentally and physically.”
While Dullahan has never competed at Belmont Park and has yet to win on dirt, Romans believes the colt will deliver a top performance in the Belmont Stakes.
“I’m going to try to get him [to Belmont] early next week to gallop a few days, breeze him over the racetrack,” said Romans. “We’ll be able to get a little better feel, but so far he’s a horse who has run over Polytrack, grass, dirt….I don’t think it matters to him.”
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Rosie Napravnik, who on May 4 became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks when she guided Believe You Can to a three-quarter-length victory, has been confirmed to ride MeB Racing Stables’ Five Sixteen in the Belmont Stakes, her agent, Matt Muzikar, confirmed on Wednesday.
Napravnik will attempt to emulate Julie Krone, who in 1993 became the first woman to win a Triple Crown race when she captured the Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair. Krone remains the only female jockey to have competed in the Belmont or to have won a Triple Crown event.
Believe You Can is currently targeting the Grade 1, $300,000 Mother Goose on June 23, which is also expected to attract Oaks runner-up Broadway’s Alibi.