Jonny Garcia can feel what isn't obvious to the naked eye, his hands and legs taking in information that can set Doug O'Neill's mind at ease or stir butterflies in the trainer's stomach.
Although jockey Mario Gutierrez is the one charged with guiding I'll Have Another in the afternoons on race days, it is Garcia who perhaps knows better than anyone what kind of effort the chestnut colt is ready to deliver.
For the past five years, Garcia has served as an exercise rider for O'Neill, getting on 10 to 12 horses in the morning. And for the better part of a year, the native of Mexico has been the one getting on I'll Have Another — giving him the bragging rights of saying he felt the potential from the start.
"I remember getting on him the first time. He felt good," Garcia said. "I told everybody, 'I like that horse.' He's got a long stride, and when he's breezing, he is very impressive. I said, 'Maybe this horse is really good.' "
What Garcia feels beneath him each morning is crucial information for O'Neill. In the days leading to the Kentucky Derby, it was rare not to see Garcia flashing a thumbs up and a wide grin after I'll Have Another's morning gallops.
It was little wonder then that O'Neill was more than relieved when Garcia arrived at Belmont Park last week after being delayed by the process of getting an exercise rider's license in New York.
"He feels the same now and he feels like the same horse," Garcia said last week.