This is not Doug O'Neill's first rodeo on the Triple Crown trail. The 44-year-old trainer went global last year when he came within 36 hours of a Triple Crown attempt only to have an 11th-hour tendon injury to Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I'll Have Another that ultimately forced his retirement.
Fast forward one year and O'Neill is once again poised to start down Derby Drive in earnest this year with Goldencents, who won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on January 5 and on Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita takes on the West Coast's "now" three-year-old in the undefeated Flashback, an eye-catching gray son of Tapit who overpowered three would-be rivals in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis on February 2, romping home by 6 1/4 lengths under Julien Leparoux.
O'Neill is both proud of and confident in Goldencents, whose only loss came to champion Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park last October. Goldencents, a Kentucky-bred son of Into Mischief, worked six furlongs last Saturday, going in a bullet 1:11 3/5, breezing.
"He worked really well, by himself, and they gave him a 'breezing' which is special," O'Neill pointed out. "He did everything on his own. It was very impressive."
Unlike I'll Have Another, who won the Lewis last year at 43-1, the resume of Goldencents precedes him. He was favored at 8-5 when he broke his maiden at Del Mar last September, winning by 7 1/4 lengths under Kevin Krigger, who has ridden him in each of his four starts, three of them victories.
Following the Champagne, Goldencents won the rich Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot going 1 1/16 miles before reverting in distance somewhat to take the one-mile Sham by 1 1/2 lengths.
O'Neill elaborated on the disparities of Goldencents and I'll Have Another.
"I'll Have Another never really needed to work fast," O'Neill explained. "He had kind of different gears, where Goldencents is like a Ferrari every day. He has that speed and stamina. I'll Have Another was a bit more laid back early on and then would get tough or stronger as the work or gallop continued."
Team O'Neill is delighted to have drawn outside of favored Flashback in the San Felipe, getting the No. 3 post while Flashback drew No. 2.
"I love it," said Doug's brother, Dennis. "Flashback kind of dictates what we do. If he breaks good, we sit right off him and if he breaks a step slow, we're in front of him and kind of keeping him down inside. I love the post.
"We got Goldencents to the track today before it rained, which was great. He went really well. We're sitting on tilt; we're ready to go."