In May 2012, the racing world was buzzing because of a 15-1 underdog who won the Kentucky Derby with the help of a bearded guy from Michigan. Four years later, Bearded Guy is back in the Derby discussion with another fast colt who has also won a $1 million prep race.
Boasting over 2,000 career wins while still in his forties, Doug O’Neill entered the thoroughbred training ranks as an outsider looking in with stars in his eyes. After falling in love with Santa Anita Park as a young man, he started off as a hotwalker before working his way up to his current status as a top California-based trainer.
His motto is “Why not us?” And it has followed O’Neill Racing like a conga line. While Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another remains his greatest claim to fame, O’Neill also trained the great Lava Man, a former claimer who went on to win over $5 million and the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup an astounding three consecutive times. He has also won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) in back-to-back years with the talented Goldencents.
This year, O’Neill will arrive at Churchill Downs armed to the teeth with Eclipse Champion Juvenile colt Nyquist, who is currently the only undefeated horse in the field with four Grade I wins in seven career starts. Nyquist will be O’Neill’s fifth starter in the Kentucky Derby and boasts the same owner/jockey combination as the aforementioned I’ll Have Another. However, unlike in the past, O’Neill’s colt will have a target on his back from the walkover to the wire, as Nyquist is very likely to be favored in his greatest test to date.
Still, O’Neill is incredibly good with horses shipping into big races, especially considering he often wins against trainers with trophy cases for their trophy cases. He has shipped in to win graded stakes at tracks such as Saratoga, Keeneland, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park and Churchill Downs, so distance from his home base should not be interpreted as hazardous to his chances.
With a 19 percent overall win rate for 2016 and arguably the most talented colt in the field, why not Doug O’Neill for the roses?