Doug O’Neill enjoyed a life-changing experience with I’ll Have Another in 2012. The 44-year-old trainer conditioned the upstart 3-year-old to unexpected victories in three Grade I races, the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes 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 3-year-old races, starting in Saturday’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile with Delta Jackpot winner and Champagne Stakes 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 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the overwhelming favorite to win an Eclipse Award in that division.

“He worked in 1:10.20 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 one-ten 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 $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 ¼-length victory on Aqueduct’s sloppy track Dec. 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 ½ lengths.

“That’s a head-scratcher,” O’Neill said of the winner of the Grade II 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.”

As for veteran stretch-running stakes winner Richard’s Kid, he is ticketed for distance races, the longer the better, starting with the Grade II San Marcos Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on turf Feb. 9, and beyond that the Grade III Tokyo City Cup at 1 ½ miles on dirt March 23.

“He looks great, he looks super,” O’Neill said.

Not as great or super as the year Team O’Neill had with I’ll Have Another, a slam dunk to win an Eclipse Award as 2012’s outstanding male 3-year-old, and a contender for Horse of the Year honors, even though his chances nose dived because he didn’t race the last seven months of the year.

“It was an unbelievable ride,” O’Neill said. “When you go back to the Hopeful of 2011 when I’ll Have Another didn’t fire and came out of the race with sore shins, and you think of him busting out and winning the Bob Lewis at a big number (43-1) and having the year he did, it was incredible.

“Because of that, our barn got a little swag to it knowing now that if we get a good enough horse, we have the staff, we have the team, we have the confidence that we can do it again.
“I just smile inside thinking back to what a great time it was.”

The field for the Sham, which goes as race three: Den’s Legacy, Garrett Gomez; Goldencents, Kevin Krigger; Greeley Awesome, Mario Gutierrez; Dry Summer, Joe Talamo; Dirty Swagg, Tyler Baze; and Manando, Martin Garcia.


Carla Gaines hopes to get the New Year off to a winning start when she runs John Scott in Saturday’s San Pasqual Stakes. It will mark the first start for the 6-year-old gelding owned and bred by the Harris Farms since his fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita last Nov. 3.

“He’s coming up to the race very well,” Gaines said of the consistent California-bred son of Bertrando, who has never been worse than fourth in 10 career starts. He has two stakes wins to his credit, although not graded. The San Pasqual, a forerunner to the Santa Anita Handicap on March 2, is a Grade II test for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles.

The field for the San Pasqual, race seven of nine: Jaycito, Julien Leparoux; Hoorayforhollywood, Joe Talamo; Tres Borrachos, Garrett Gomez; Ultimate Eagle, Martin Pedroza; John Scott, Victor Espinoza; Coil, Martin Garcia; Bank the Eight, Rafael Bejarano; Key Decision, Edwin Maldonado; and Golden Itiz, Jose Valdivia Jr.


It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Erick Lopez could ride before he could walk.

Fact is, the son of jockey C.C. Lopez and grandson of retired rider Chuck Lopez was on his first horse at the age of eight and was galloping at race tracks when he was 15.

Now 25, Lopez hopes to make a fresh start in California, starting Friday at Santa Anita when he rides Mr. Why Why for trainer Mike Pender in the second race. A native of Marlboro, N.J., in the heart of The Garden State’s horse country, hard by Freehold Raceway and Monmouth Park in Oceanport, Lopez rode his first race at The Meadowlands in 2007.

In addition to family tutorship, Erick rubbed elbows with some of racing’s elite when he was a boy, so his segue to the saddle was a natural.

“I’ve known Angel Cordero and Jorge Velazquez since I was a kid,” said Lopez, bright, breezy and forthright in his demeanor. “In fact, both were my agents back East. (Cordero’s main man is Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez).”

Lopez is represented by agent Jerry (The Fisherman) Palermo, a Runyonesque race track character who gained his nickname from working on fishing boats. “But I’ve been an agent for 33 years,” he quickly adds.

“I met Erick right here in Santa Anita’s parking lot. I showed him some of my paintings (another Palermo avocation), we hit it off, and here we are.”

FINISH LINES: Former jockey Corey Black, who has been galloping horses freelance since his retirement 12 years ago, has taken the book of jockey Aaron Gryder effective yesterday. Black previously has been agent for Gary Stevens, Mike Smith, Patrick Valenzuela and Brice Blanc, “but this will be my first rider in seven years.” . . . Corey Nakatani, still recovering from a spill in Saturday’s fourth race, took off his scheduled mounts Tuesday for the third straight day . . . Great Mills, scratched from last Saturday’s Daytona Stakes when it was moved from grass to dirt, worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Tuesday in 1:01.40. Steve Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi was pleased with the move but had no word on the turf sprint specialist’s next race . . . Rumor, winner of the Kalookan Queen Handicap on Jan. 1, 2012, worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s firm turf course in 1:01.60. “We’re looking at the Santa Monica for her,” trainer Richard Mandella said, “but there’s a small chance we could run in the Monrovia.” Rumor was sixth in last year’s Santa Monica, when it was a Grade I race. The seven furlong race to be run Jan. 26 on the main track has been reduced to a Grade II this year. The Grade II Monrovia at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf will be run Sunday and is expected to mark the 2013 debut of Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection, who worked five furlongs on grass today in a bullet 1:00.20 for trainer Mike Puype. “She went very well, she’s very much ready and we’re looking forward to Sunday,” Puype said . . . Bode Miller was a subject on “Jeopardy” Monday night. The category was “name the Olympic sport” and Miller’s name came up under one of the questions. The answer, of course, was skiing. Miller owns a share of the stakes-winning 3-year-old Carving, trained by Bob Baffert, whose wife, Jill, also is part owner.