BELMONT , N.Y. – First on the track at 8:30 a.m. during the special time slot set aside for Belmont Stakes contenders, Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another had an easy gallop around the dogs over a sloppy, sealed Belmont Park oval Saturday morning.
Cones were set eight feet from the rail for the training session, which saw a number of Belmont hopefuls jogging and galloping in preparation for the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” on Saturday, June 9.
As has been his routine, I’ll Have Another was accompanied to the track by his stable pony, Lava Man, with whom he jogged to the backstretch before breaking off for a one-mile gallop through the mud under exercise rider Jonny Garcia.
In his only start over an off-track, I’ll Have Another finished sixth in the Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga Race Course, but trainer Doug O’Neill did not think the going contributed to that loss.
“He had a lot of trouble in the Hopeful and came out of it with sore shins,” said O’Neill, who was sporting a New York Mets baseball cap in honor of Johan Santana’s historic no-hitter Friday night. “During this whole Triple Crown run, he’s trained over a lot of sloppy tracks and he gets over it really well. I don’t think track surface will be an issue.”
O’Neill said the colt will walk through the Belmont Park paddock and school Sunday morning prior to his gallop, instead of heading directly from his barn to the track.
As he prepares to move I’ll Have Another into a security barn that will house all the Belmont Stakes contenders beginning at noon on Wednesday, the trainer remained upbeat and positive as he and his team focus on the task at hand.
“With a horse like I’ll Have Another … you’re under a really strong microscope,” he said. “I think it’s all just trying to show the public we care for the horses and that when you put your hard-earned money and you bet on one of the horses you can know they’re all clean and pure and ready to go.”
O’Neill said that I’ll Have Another’s jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is scheduled to arrive in New York Monday evening, and that the 25-year-old rider will have a number of mounts at Belmont next week. Among those is the O’Neill-trained Boxeur des Rues, whom the trainer is pointing to the 1 ½-mile Brooklyn Handicap on Friday, June 8 after apparently resolving a foot bruise earlier this week.
“The race starts at the spot the Belmont does, and I think it will be a great help to Mario to get that under his belt,” said O’Neill. “If the horse is not right, he won’t run, but as of this morning, so far so good.”