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O'Neill enthused about Goldencents, Mudflats
Doug O'Neill enjoyed a life-changing experience with I'll Have Another in 2012. The 44-year-old trainer conditioned the upstart three-year-old to unexpected victories in three Grade 1 races, the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, before an 11th-hour tendon injury forced him to abort a Triple Crown attempt in the Belmont Stakes.
But life goes on, and now O'Neill is focused on another run in the classic three-year-old races, starting in Saturday's Grade 3 Sham at one mile with Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot winner and Grade 1 Champagne runner-up Goldencents, owned in part by coaching great Rick Pitino, currently directing basketball operations at the University of Louisville.
The Champagne was Goldencents' only defeat, coming at the hands of unbeaten Shanghai Bobby, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the overwhelming favorite to win an Eclipse Award in that division.
"He worked in 1:10 1/5 last Thursday and if you didn't have a stop watch, you'd have thought he went (in) 1:14 or 1:15, just cruising," O'Neill said of Goldencents. "I did have a stop watch on him, and as I looked down and saw 1:10 and change, it was just, wow! It was really amazing.
"He came out of it in great shape, full of energy, and it's just one day at a time. He's got to stay injury-free but he's a real, real exciting prospect."
O'Neill has another promising sophomore in recent acquisition Mudflats, scheduled to run in the Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome at Aqueduct, also on Saturday.
"He looked really good," said O'Neill, just back from New York where he visited the gray son of Tapit first hand. "He reminds a lot of a younger version of Sky Jack (winner of the 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup). He's got that same physique.
"You can tell he's a real feisty guy, but at the same time, real chilled out in the stall. He's got the right demeanor and the right pedigree to be a good horse, so hopefully he can move forward off his big maiden win."
Mudflats broke his maiden at seven furlongs with a 3 1/4-length victory on Aqueduct's sloppy track December 8.
On the puzzling side, O'Neill plans to go back to square one with Know More, who finished sixth and last in a six-furlong allowance race Friday, beaten 21 1/2 lengths.
"That's a head-scratcher," O'Neill said of the winner of the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar last summer. "I put blinkers on thinking it would add something to him. Obviously, that didn't do it, but he came out of it in great shape.
"We're going to regroup. Like Trevor (Denman) says, 'They're not machines,' so he just needs to be recalibrated and we'll get him figured out."