There is a proverb that states it takes a village to raise a child — a theory which pays tribute to the fact that behind every successful individual are numerous people and factors that contributed to the end result.
If the past four weeks have demonstrated anything, it's how the same adage applies to the collective yeomanlike effort it has taken to get Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another onto the ledge of history where he now stands.
Though trainer Doug O'Neill has taken the heat and the credit for much of what has transpired during I'll Have Another's run-up to the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, he is the first to acknowledge he is heading a machine that has several crucial components working toward the same goal.
Whether it is the sharp eye of O'Neill's brother Dennis, the powerful hands of equine chiropractor Larry "Thumper" Jones, or the positive calm that radiates from assistant Jack Sisterson, every member of Team O'Neill has played his own integral role in morphing I'll Have Another into a potential champion.
As the days click down to the son of Flower Alley's attempt at becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, we will reveal some of the faces behind Team O'Neill and show why their fearless leader wouldn't think of going into battle without them.
"If I were doing it on my own, I think I would have a nervous breakdown," Doug O'Neill joked. "It's all about the horse and the surrounding team."
When it came time to summon the key connections to the respective interview rooms after I'll Have Another's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes triumphs, there was a reason a spot was reserved for Dennis O'Neill at each podium.
Doug O'Neill admittedly holds his older brother's opinion in exceptionally high regard, and not just because he has seniority over him. Along with helping to get his sibling involved in the training game after getting hooked on the breeding business himself, the Dennis O'Neill, 49, provides his brother with a built-in support system as well a sharp horseman's mind.
It was Dennis O'Neill's keen eye that was responsible for picking out many top runners for Doug O'Neill's clients, including I'll Have Another, whom he purchased for $35,000 at the 2011 OBS April 2-year-olds in training sale.
"Me doing this so long, working with Doug, I know what Doug can put up with and what he can't," Dennis O'Neill said. "Honestly, when (I'll Have Another) went through the ring, I said, this is a perfect horse."
Instead of chasing after the best pedigrees or physicals in a sales catalog, Dennis O'Neill's craft lies in trying to spot the upside in babies who sell in the lower to middle market range. How they move over the track grabs his eye more than how fast their breeze time is, a concept that also helped him secure 2005 juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy for $100,000 at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton Calder selected 2-year-olds in training sale for owner Merv Griffin.
"Dennis is really kind of self-taught, but he just has a really good eye for these 2-year-olds in training sales," Doug O'Neill said. "He's got a lot of confidence in what he sees. He runs a lot of horses by (owner) Paul Reddam, and Paul pooh-poohs a lot of them, but when Paul sees what Dennis sees and they're on the same page, we've had a lot of success with those kind of horses."