BELMONT , N.Y. – Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another visited the paddock at Belmont Park Sunday morning, standing briefly in the saddling enclosure and walking several times around the paddock before heading to the track for his customary energetic morning gallop.
“The way he went today, that will be the last time he’ll see the paddock [before the race],” said trainer Doug O’Neill. “He’s good to go.”
After passing through the grandstand tunnel from the paddock to the main track, the handsome chestnut colt was warmly greeted by the “Breakfast at Belmont ” fans who lined up along the rail to watch him gallop past with exercise rider Jonny Gonzalez. On June 9, the chestnut colt will attempt to add the 1 ½-mile Belmont to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories and become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.
“It’s so cool to see the people in the paddock and in the grandstand,” said O’Neill, who trains I’ll Have Another for J. Paul Reddam. “You can start feeling the excitement that the Belmont ’s coming. It’s a huge credit to the Belmont people to set aside the special time, kind of closing off these 15 minutes and letting people come out and get a chance to see some of the runners. It’s been fun.”
O’Neill, who watched I’ll Have Another’s gallop from the box seats in the grandstand, was also able to see several other Belmont contenders put in their final breezes for the “Test of the Champion.”
“I didn’t get a chance to really dissect the horses that worked, but when the horses came by me, I thought that Dullahan looked great, stretching out,” said O’Neill, adding he thought Paynter and trainer Ken McPeek’s duo of Atigun and Unstoppable U looked good as well.
Informed that Dullahan’s trainer, Dale Romans, thought he had the horse to beat in the race, O’Neill said: “I respect [Dale] a ton, so if he says that, it’s scary. As confident as he is in his horse, I’m equally confident in my horse. I think we’re in really good shape.”
Coming through the stretch, I’ll Have Another picked up the pace considerably and galloped out with good energy, which O’Neill was delighted to see.
“He’s just a special horse,” he said. “Good horses do things that are special very easily. It’s so humbling to be around a horse like him. He’s such a brilliant horse. We wouldn’t be here without I’ll Have Another’s brilliance.”
The trainer said he would like to have I’ll Have Another moved into the Belmont Stakes barn Monday morning after training, and added that he was hoping the tightened security would help focus attention on the horse.
“I am kind of looking forward to running him in a situation when you’re in a fishbowl and everyone who has thought negative thoughts about me can realize it’s not about me, it’s about the horse,” he said. “And they can watch him lead up to a historical event and, hopefully, watch him kick butt, in a fishbowl.”