Sometimes even a Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup winning trainer needs a little “beep, beep, beep” to get him going again.
In this case, it wasn’t exactly the toot of a friendly car horn at a stoplight, but the expletive type of “beep, beep, beep” that got Doug O’Neill back on track just in time to go for the ride of his life as the trainer of Derby winner Nyquist.
The profanity-laced tirade came from owner Paul Reddam about a year ago when another horse in the Reddam stable, Bad Read Sanchez, had been injured in training and O’Neill had absent mindedly forgotten to get in touch with Reddam.
“Paul very seldom yells at me and he kind of went Bobby Knight on me a little bit on the phone,” O’Neill recalled sitting next to Reddam on stage with the winning connections of Nyquist on Saturday night. “I definitely took some grief, but I definitely think it was the best grief I’ve ever taken.”
For his part, Reddam was coy.
“I actually don’t remember that conversation,” the owner smiled.
But it was the type of conversation that changed O’Neill for the better and helped him get out of a self-proclaimed “slump.”
The 47-year-old trainer worried that his longstanding relationship with Reddam, for whom he has trained upward of 200 horses, was in jeopardy.
“He’s super loyal, but his big thing is if you’re a poor communicator, he would probably never fire you, but you’d get less horses,” O’Neill said. “I had such a great group of horses for him and such great people.”
After the tirade, nothing felt right for the Southern California based trainer. He went to Reddam’s office to iron out a better plan.
“When I hung up, I felt like I was 2 feet tall,” O’Neill recalled. “And it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Because of that misstep, O’Neill, Reddam and others now meet once a week to go over the finer details, to make more firm plans and keep the lines of communication more open.
“I think that’s helped our luck because we’re a lot more prepared, a lot more planned,” O’Neill theorized. “I think it helps all of our confidence as well.”
Perhaps it was that meeting and the subsequent ones that have helped make the path so clear and seemingly effortless for Nyquist, who has won all eight of his career starts.
Nyquist is the second Derby winner for the trio of O’Neill, Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez, which won in 2012 with I’ll Have Another.
Maybe because of that aforementioned chat or because he’s been in this situation before, O’Neill felt more at ease in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s race.
“I’m glad I’ll Have Another wasn’t the favorite because in 2012, I don’t know if I could’ve taken that,” O’Neill confessed after the win. “I don’t think there’s enough tequila in Mexico for me to handle that.”
But he’s handling everything a little better these days thanks to that prior experience and a little “beep, beep, beep.”