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O'Neill glad that Belmont horses will be in 'same locker room'
I'll Have Another, who on Saturday will bid to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner in the $1 million Belmont Stakes, had his usual 1 1/2-mile tour of Belmont Park's oval Monday morning, walking and jogging alongside stable pony Lava Man before galloping through the lane.
"(Exercise rider) Jonny Garcia, who gets on him, thought he felt great, so we were very happy with his training today," said trainer Doug O'Neill, who added that I'll Have Another will move into the Belmont Stakes barn on Tuesday after training.
All the starters in the 144th Belmont are required to be in the stakes barn by noon on Wednesday.
"I know the other guys will probably hate me for this, but I like the thought of showing the general public all the horses are in the same locker room, they're all being looked after real thoroughly," he said.
"Just the transparency that our game probably lacks is key. You get a lot of commentary from people who don't know the horses, who don't know the horsemen, and don't know how they're cared for. This way you have everyone in an isolated vicinity and everyone who wants to come and kind of watch what's going on there and make a judgment from what's really happening and not guessing what's going on in that guy's locker room or that guy's locker room. I think it's a good thing.
"The obvious negative thing is a lot of horses do get distracted when they change stalls. It sounds silly, but it happens. Hopefully I'll Have Another won't get distracted, that none of the other horses get distracted, they all settle in good, they all present themselves well, and it's a nice, clean-run race, and at the end of the day people can say, 'Wow, they were all looked after and they all ran great.'"
The trainer said he thought having a Triple Crown winner would be good for horse racing.
"If he were to get lucky and win on June 9 I think it would be great," O'Neill said. "Anything we can do to show what a great game it is, how beautiful these horses are, and how well they're cared for is, I'm hoping, a positive step.
"One of the problems our industry has, we have a hard time falling in love with horses, because oftentimes, once they get really good, the temptation of the financial end of it is so strong that most of us have to take the money and retire them," he added.
"Knowing (owner) Paul (Reddam), if the horse is right, he'd much rather see the horse compete, and I think that would be great for the game as I'll Have Another is gaining more and more fans. It would be nice to see him around for another year or two if the racing gods are looking over him."
I'll Have Another's jockey, Mario Gutierrez, was scheduled to arrive later Monday, and O'Neill said he and the 25-year-old rider will be reviewing tapes of previous Belmonts over the next few days.
Gutierrez is scheduled to have a personal tour of Belmont Park with former New York riding champion Richard Migliore on Thursday, and on Friday will ride the O'Neill-trained Boxeur des Rues in the Grade Brooklyn Handicap over the same 1 1/2-mile trip as the Belmont Stakes.