NEW YORK — Doug O’Neill knows how to play to a New York audience.
The morning after Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, the trainer of Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another showed up for his Belmont Stakes news briefing sporting a Mets cap.
A security guard at his colt’s barn gave him the cap Saturday morning, and O’Neill popped it right on his head.
“A good friend of mine, Keith, gave it to me,” said O’Neill, who lives in southern California.
“He was pumped up. It’s a historical event. Their first no-hitter. The Kings are trying to win their first Stanley Cup and there’s this 34-year deal (without a Triple Crown winner). I’ll do anything that keeps the positive mojo going.”
O’Neill said I’ll Have Another went through his normal routine of a half-mile jog, one-mile gallop over a sloppy track at Belmont Park, which received 1½ inches of rain overnight.
“We were on a very nice, safe, fresh track, and I’ll Have Another galloped like a champ over it,” he said.
Before today’s gallop, O’Neill plans to have I’ll Have Another walk from his barn through the tunnel leading to the paddock area, where the horses will be saddled before the 1½-mile Belmont.
Mario Gutierrez, the colt’s jockey who has never been to the track, is scheduled to arrive Monday night, and might get a chance to ride in a race Friday over the same Belmont distance.
Once the 25-year-old jockey arrives, he’ll be making several off-track appearances as well. He will be at the Empire State Building on Tuesday, and is scheduled to appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday night, according to Equispone, a marketing company arranging Team O’Neill’s schedule.
Dullahan, perhaps I’ll Have Another’s top challenger, had his work out postponed Saturday because of the muddy track.
Trainer Dale Romans is confident his colt can be the spoiler.
“I think we’re the horse to beat,” he said.