After watching Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another gallop Wednesday morning over Belmont Park's main track, trainer Doug O'Neill recounted a conversation he had outside the barn with Billy Turner, trainer of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
"We spoke for 30-40 minutes," O'Neill said. "What a great man and a cool guy! He gave us a lot of helpful tips on how to prepare our guy for the big one. The one thing Billy said was...having the horse here earlier than later is a big edge. The fact that we're here is huge. We talked about how not only do jockeys need to kind of figure out the oval, but horses do as well. Between the surface and the horses getting used to the oval, the earlier you're here, the better.
"I had asked him about breezing, because I'm not planning on breezing I'll Have Another. He said he only breezed Seattle Slew twice between the Preakness and Belmont because he needed to take the edge off him, because he was such a high energy horse. As you see I'll Have Another is a pretty mellow horse, really.
"It was a great conversation and I let him know how much I appreciated him sharing his experience with us."
O'Neill said he sees signs every day that I'll Have Another is growing accustomed to Belmont Park's unique 1 1/2-mile oval.
"I think every day he's gone a little better," the trainer said. "He's switching leads perfectly, (exercise rider) Jonny (Garcia) is happy with him. Cooling out every day, he's recovering quicker, so that's a great sign. We're very happy with the way he's maintained his stride and the way he's handling his daily gallops."
Wednesday evening, members of Team O'Neill will head to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, to watch the New Jersey Devils host the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
"We're all pumped up," O'Neill said. "We might even put a little black on a couple of our teeth and have the hockey look where you have the missing-teeth thing going on. We're just pumped. A close second (to horse racing) would be a hockey playoff. Just the energy in the rink is going to be absolutely crazy. With the fact we're from L.A., we have to be very conscientious to not be rooting too much for L.A. if we want to make it out of there alive. But, no, we're pumped. It's going to be a blast."
In other Belmont news:
Not to be outdone by Doug O'Neill and Billy Turner, trainer Dale Romans consulted with Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens on Wednesday as he prepares Donegal Racing's Dullahan for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
"If anybody knows how to get one to go a mile and a half, it's The Chief," Romans said.
Jerkens was skeptical he could provide much help, citing how his best finish in three Belmont Stakes starts was Best of Luck's fourth in 1999.
The Chief's record in other races at 1 1/2 miles or longer would suggest otherwise, considering how he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice at two miles (Prove Out in 1973 and Group Plan in 1975), the Gallant Fox twice at 1 5/8 miles (Choker in 1965 and Dance Caller in 1983), the Man o' War once at 1 1/2 miles on soft turf, (Beau Purple in 1962, defeating Kelso), the Woodward once at 1 1/2 miles (Prove Out in 1973, defeating Secretariat), and the Brooklyn once at 1 1/2 miles (Hechizado in 1981).
To build Dullahan's stamina for the Belmont, Romans had the two-time Grade 1 winner breeze one mile in 1:43 on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
"I see you breezed him a mile," Jerkens noted.
"Yep. What did you think?" Romans asked.
"Well, that's good."
"Old school. Let him gallop a mile and an eighth, too."
"I remember one time we had a horse run in the (1981) Brooklyn. We breezed him a mile and a quarter."
Jerkens said there is no standard way to prepare a horse for a race like the Belmont Stakes.
"The only thing you can do is to do what works for you," Jerkens said. "It's the only thing to do. Do what works for you."
On Wednesday, Dullahan galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar.
"Looked good, looked good," said Romans. "He was bouncing out there. It looked like he liked the racetrack."
Guyana Star Dweej was on the track Wednesday morning and after having his workout cut short, the maiden winner was credited with a :50 four-furlong breeze.
Owner/trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal planned to have Guyana Star Dweej breeze five furlongs, but the colt had his workout truncated as he was pulled up earlier than expected by jockey Eddie Castro.
"For some reason, the jockey didn't let him go around the turn," Shivmangal said. "We planned to go five-eighths, but we didn't get the full work in. But it's OK. He's not a work horse. He loafs in the morning, but in the afternoon he's a different horse. He came back, we scoped him, he scoped fine."
Shivmangal said he has Guyana Star Dweej tentatively scheduled to breeze on the Wednesday or Thursday prior to the Belmont Stakes.
"I want him to do it fast," Shivmangal said. "I'll put him in company, and from there I'll make my final decision. I would love to run him in the Belmont."
Guyana Star Dweej, second to Unstoppable U in an April 27 optional claimer at Belmont, is also under consideration for the 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer overnight stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard.