Doug O'Neill is experiencing the same rite of passage — albeit a fun one — any trainer fortunate enough to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner endures. Now that the California-based trainer has proven he can get a still-developing sophomore to hit his best stride on the biggest day, he is going to constantly be asked to compare how his current 3-year-olds stack up to the champion.
Among the most obvious would-be heirs to the throne of I'll Have Another, the dual classic winner trained by O'Neill last season, is He's Had Enough — a quirky gray colt who also has the same owner (Paul Reddam) and jockey (Mario Gutierrez) as his predecessor. He's Had Enough makes his season debut Saturday against three others in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
The Robert B. Lewis ended up being the initial shot across the bow I'll Have Another delivered a year ago when he won by 23/4 lengths in the first start of what would be an Eclipse Award-winning campaign.
Similarly, the 11⁄16-mile race will mark He's Had Enough's first start since a fifth-place run in the Grade I CashCall Futurity. While the son of Tapit displayed breakout ability in getting beat just a head by eventual 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, it has become apparent to O'Neill that where things came so easy to I'll Have Another, He's Had Enough is going to need a push.
"He's a strange horse because he does not apply himself race to race or day to day for that matter," O'Neill said by phone Thursday. "He's very inconsistent so we've taken the approach going into this race where we've worked him in company, we've worked him out of the gate, really been strict and tough with him. I'm hoping we'll see a better effort.
"After the Breeders' Cup, we kind of let him train himself into the CashCall Futurity and that obviously wasn't enough. So we've been a lot more strict and firm on him."
The Robert B. Lewis, which is worth 10 points on the new Kentucky Derby system that will determine the field May 4, will be the first start on dirt for He's Had Enough since the Breeders' Cup. His other four outings came over turf or synthetic surfaces. The colt broke his maiden over the synthetic track at Del Mar last August but has been off the board since with the exception of his Breeders' Cup near-miss.
O'Neill plans to add blinkers to He's Had Enough on Saturday and hopes to get a truer read on what he has to work with going forward.
"He's worn them (blinkers) before, but we're trying to keep his mind on his business," O'Neill said. "When Mario calls on him, we want him to jump into the bridle. Even though it's a short field and we don't have the speed ... I think with Mario and the way this horse has trained, I think we can stay in touch and that we're better than the other three."
Of the three horses He's Had Enough will face in the Robert B. Lewis, two are from the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert: Den's Legacy and impressive maiden winner Flashback.
He's Had Enough is not O'Neill's lone Derby contender this season. Stablemate Goldencents is the co-leader of the Kentucky Derby points system with 24. A winner of three of four starts, Goldencents won the Grade III Delta Jackpot last November and opened 2013 with authority in taking the Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 5.
"He's such a cool horse. Unlike He's Had Enough, he brings it every day," said O'Neill, who added that Goldencents remains on target for the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 9.
The only loss Goldencents suffered was when he ran second to Shanghai Bobby in the Grade I Champagne Stakes last October. The son of Into Mischief was not Breeders' Cup nominated, thus did not run in the Juvenile
"We just figured why squeeze that race in and pay to play," O'Neill said. "It just didn't make sense."