Goose Bumps by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the May 26, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BlackCat30 on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds The May 19 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) was a special moment in our sport—an “Instant Classic.” If watching I’ll Have Another reel in Bodemeister in the Pimlico stretch during the second jewel of the Triple Crown didn’t stir the soul, perhaps you’re in the wrong business.

Watching from the winner’s circle at Old Hilltop, we only have two words to describe the stretch run: goose bumps.
While it’s only been two races, I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister have developed quite a rivalry—one that hopefully can draw a new generation to the sport. After the 11⁄4-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the 13⁄16 miles of the Preakness, the two have been separated by a mere 13⁄4 lengths, and the 83/4 lengths back to Preakness third-place finisher Creative Cause shows these two are clearly on a different level from the rest of the pack…and the pack is considered a good, consistent crop of 3-year-olds.

After hitting the line together in the Preakness, can I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister begin to be mentioned in the same breath as Affirmed and Alydar, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer? Perhaps not quite yet, but give it time to percolate.

Co-owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert will pass the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with Bodemeister, who is clearly a freak up to nine furlongs. However, the pair hopefully will have plenty of other chances down the road to mix it up again, but for now let’s enjoy the ride to New York.

It’s unlikely the Maryland Jockey Club could have even imagined the ride they would get Preakness weekend. Splendid weather brought out a record crowd to watch a competitive card full of good races and an infield full of good musical choices, including headliners Wiz Khalifa and Maroon 5.

Few figured that would be the case a few years ago when MJC chief Tom Chuckas Jr. made a bold move—and the right one—to change the culture of the infield crowd at Pimlico. The ability to bring in unlimited amounts of alcohol and the frat party atmosphere of the event was a recipe for disaster, and Chuckas had the foresight and courage to pull the tap from the keg. The hope was that short-term pain—attendance fell 30% from 2008 to 2009 in its first year—would lead to long-term gain. With a savvy marketing program and bringing in top-line concert draws, they have reinvented the event for the better. The area around the bandstand for Maroon 5 was packed, the MJC had a record crowd, and the ontrack handle was among the best ever.

This year’s event was the success it was because of three things: the weather, an appealing headliner in the infield, and trainer Doug O’Neill’s going out of his way to become one of Maryland’s own during Preakness week.

Not only did O’Neill bring I’ll Have Another to Pimlico early—he arrived the Tuesday after the Derby, the earliest arrival of a Derby winner for as long as we can remember—but the trainer came, too. On May 12, a full seven days before the Preakness, O’Neill and his team ran in the Preakness 5K with stable pony and star Lava Man leading the runners around the track. The following day, O’Neill attended the Baltimore Ravens rookie mini-camp and had lunch with head coach John Harbaugh. On May 14 he not only visited the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center but also threw out the first pitch at the Baltimore Orioles—New York Yankees baseball game. The following day he visited the Boys & Girls Club near Pimlico.

Owner J. Paul Reddam and his wife, Zillah, made themselves accessible to the media. O’Neill also danced every dance with the MJC at their ontrack events and around town.

Oh, yeah, O’Neill also had time to watch his Preakness runner gallop in the morning and to train some other horses from the stakes barn. He also found the time to come to

the press box with jockey Mario Gutierrez and horseman Ciaran Dunne the day before the Preakness to watch videos of previous Preakness races to plot strategy.

Making himself accessible goes a long way in increasing awareness in the sport at the local level, and there was a payoff May 19. O’Neill’s past record brings plenty of baggage, but he hasn’t ducked the question and he’s gone out of his way to promote the sport nationally and at the grassroots level.

With a sweep of the Triple Crown hanging in the balance in the coming three weeks, racing has an opportunity.

And the connections of I’ll Have Another seem uniquely suited to help the sport take full advantage of it.

19 Comments

Leave a Comment:

breeze10

Mr.Hammonds: Another great article!  You are absolutely right...Team O'Neill has certainly done alot for racing!  They have not only raised new enthusiasm for the sport, but, they have also done it graciously, humbly, and with a real care for fellow human beings (they have affected and brought joy to so many children).  Regardless of the accusations flying around...and we must remember..they remain to be accusations ("innocent until proven guilty"), this racing team and the beautiful creature they have nurtured have restored racing!

The best of luck to all and may all remain safe and healthy.  God Bless them.  It gives me "goose bumps" just to think of what this magnificent horse can do on June 9th!

22 May 2012 12:41 PM
MRO

Seeing Lava Man alone is worthy of goosebumps, but the race was also something else!

22 May 2012 1:40 PM
LucyWG

   Doug O'Neill, whatever else he might have done, will always be okay in my book for the appreciation he has shown to Lava Man.  He is not simply giving the horse a safe, pleasant retirement, he is giving him a great life by letting him be active and involved at the place he was happiest.  People forget, horses live a long time and most are just getting started at an age when race horses are already retiring.  Lava Man is so lucky to be with someone who understands him and has let him remain active and fit.

22 May 2012 2:56 PM
iceman92

hope i"ll have another wins the triple crown. also hope he and bodemeister show up for the travers at saratoga. how's that for wishful thinking?

22 May 2012 5:32 PM
Katherine

LucyWG..well said! You can see Lava Man is having the time of his life traveling with and coaching the Cookie Monster!

22 May 2012 6:11 PM
Cassandra.Says

I'm not inclined to give Doug O'Neill the benefit of the doubt on "milkshaking" and I've figured out why that is. It's because I think the ban on it is outrageous. The milkshake is a combination of Tums antacid and the stuff in the bottles they hold out to marathon runners during the races. It is good sports medicine and good for the horse.

I can imagine a good man and good horseman holding this ban in contempt in a sport that permits Lasix, a potent performance enhancer that is bad for the horse.

You can give the horse something that drains its electrolytes but not something that restores them.

If milkshakes enhance performance, and I doubt they do more than Lasix, treat them like Lasix. Have them vet-administered and put a little M in the program.

I think journalists owe it to Doug to explain exactly what he is accused of doing to his horses, as many of us are anti-drug out of concern for the welfare of the horses, and see a moral difference between drugs that increase the risk of injury and drugs that improve the horse's health.

22 May 2012 7:23 PM
Owlbet

Pardon me, but I'm here because I happened to stumble upon a famous mare who went 19-1 in her career and is now a mother.  And because of "her", I'm here, soaking up the pre-race hype and hoopla of a potential Triple Crown winner.  This sport needs more Zenyattas and I'll Have Anothers to bring new fans to the track.  I look forward to the time when Zenyatta's colt takes to the track.

22 May 2012 10:06 PM
Jockeygirl

I had allot of confidence in I'll have another but now with the jockey change in Union Rags i'm afraid he'l nip his TC chances. But thats the sport! And it give I'll have another a chance to prove he's better then we even know!

23 May 2012 12:46 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

Excellent article! I wish that the main stream media would produce or post articles such as this. However, main stream media is hell bent on destroying the sport. Last night on MSN the headline for the Triple Crown was "I'LL HAVE ANOTHER RECOVERING WELL AFTER PREAKNESS" as if to imply that he had hurt himself. Other suggested article headlines next to IHA's Triple Crown update were about "Doug's O'Neill's positive drug tests", "Dutrow's potential 10-year ban from positive drug tests", Desormeaux's lost rides due to failed breathalyzer tests", and "Secretariat's birthplace sold as foreclosure". In the blog below the article about IHA, one blogger enphatically stated that Baffert gives every horse in his barn cocaine and for years has bribed the drug testing facilities and the stewards to prevent being penalized. I don't believe a word that the blogger said but a lot of people eat that kind of stuff up all day long.

Main stream media is doing it's best to discredit horse racing at every turn. Nobody in the Jockey Club, state racing boards, individual racetracks, etc. is standing up to these bullies in the media and PETA. Why?

I agree with Cassandra about milkshaking. Anyone who has ever had a horse with a tying-up issue knows how important baking soda is. The general public has no clue what milkshaking actually is and they don't seem to have any interest to learn about the practice. They only choose to hear and see negatives about the sport, mostly because that is the only press the sport gets.

I know people, some are friends, who are convinced that only a few racehorses ever survive their racetrack career and continue to live a happy, healthy life after racing. The rest of the poor beasts are all sent to the killers after the "greedy owners and trainers have squeezed every dollar out of the horses". Even when a horse dies from colic people think that it was from a drug that was given to the horse in the days, weeks, months, or years prior, and not because nature has designed a very sensitive digestive tract for such a powerful animal.

Horse racing deserves excellent writing and stories such as this one to be shared with everyone, not just us lucky few who love the sport and follow the industry publications. The sport needs more good press!

23 May 2012 7:41 PM
brunoaltimino

Mario you may find yourself on the lead in the Belmont.  This would be a mistake I think with this horse.  He doesn't have the front running style of Seattle Slew.  He could get bored and caught because a mile and one half on the lead is a long long way to go.  You stated that he loves to catch horses, so make sure he does just that in the Belmont.  You should be close to the pace.  Don't make your move too early like Deseurmeaux did with Real Quiet and Elliott did with Smarty Jones.  Just wait and sit chilly.  Hang with the leaders. Then, with an eight of a mile left, let him run.  Then we will all be celebrating the twelveth Triple Crown winner with you!  Buenas Suerte y SALUDOS!!

23 May 2012 9:00 PM
Greg R

Whatever happens in the Belmont, I hope the IHA/Bodemeister rivalry resumes.  Bode will run in the Haskell and maybe IHA will prep in the Jim Dandy and then they will hook up again in the Travers, as Iceman suggests.  However, Bob B. may keep Bode away from IHA at ten furlongs until the Breeders Cup.  If Bode heads instead to the Whitney and Woodward (both nine f.) against older horses and defeats them,as he could probably do, that would really boost his standing.  Otherwise, he will have to beat IHA at least twice to seize an Eclipse award, even if IHA doesn't win the TC.

24 May 2012 12:37 AM
MonicaV

Jockeygirl nesse,

You may be right about Union Rags whom I've always liked wrecking a TC but I don't think that will happen.  There is something about I'll have another that makes me think that this is the year of the 12th TC winner.  Guess we'll find out.

24 May 2012 4:27 PM
predict

"Goosebumps" is an excellent way to describe the feeling I got watching the Preakness. I couldn't believe the way I'll Have Another closed in the final yards. I think you are right that O'Neill's behavior was a big part of making this Preakness so successfull and hope he continues to display this fine attitude and graciousness now moving on to the Belmont. If he serves up more of the same in New York, then all I can say is,"I'll Have Another".

24 May 2012 8:03 PM
brunoaltimino

Union Rags has natural speed so he could have the lead in the Belmont.  That would be perfect for I'll Have Another.

25 May 2012 10:23 AM
sharjyl

Its out of discussion, but its really bothering me after hearing that New York stewards would not allow IHA to wear a nasal strip for his Belmont stakes. I am from New York and its really really pissing me off that these stupid stewards could not come up with a dumber idea at this particular moment for this horse and what is at stake. I want to hear your wise words on the issue. NYRA is already becoming "New York Ridiculous Association", and now the stewards follow their lead. Its so bizarre. Please mention this in the news and let those stewards know what are they doing.

25 May 2012 6:03 PM
JRS

I just hope that Doug F. O Neil is not one those trainers that hurts horse racing industry.I have heard about his troubled past.

25 May 2012 6:14 PM
Slew

The fact that I'll Have Another is being mentored by the great Lava Man...wow...What a Triple Crown year in the making!  What a story!

Still enjoying the goosebumps of the first 2 legs.  Watch for Paynter to kick into gear in Bodemeister's absence....but I'll be rooting for Lava Man and company.

25 May 2012 7:16 PM
skyfire

Wow!! What a year we are having in horse racing!! IHA running down a very good horse in Bode...a very deep handicap division with the Dan's and Caleb, Jackson Bend, Shack, mares such as Awesome Maria, etc. etc.  I can't name them all, and two year olds at Del Mar and Saratoga still to come!!  May they all stay healthy and sound, and may the owners/trainers be as interactive and friendly as those of IHA!!

Cheers!!

25 May 2012 7:37 PM
sharjyl

JRS:

Your horse racing industry has not had as good of a feel good story recently as ONeil's. I mean Come on....Is that hurting horse racing.

And, I hope you are not one of those sick people who have trouble seeing racing coming to the national scene after all. Because I am seeing your troubled present.

25 May 2012 11:29 PM

Recent Posts

More Blogs

Archives