DEL MAR — Many of the so-called “experts” might think trainer Doug O’Neill has lost his mind, running a pair of horses against Arrogate, Collected and Accelerate on Saturday in Del Mar’s $1 million Pacific Classic.
But remember this – O’Neill’s the same “crazed” man who has won two Kentucky Derbies, once won a record five races in one afternoon at this seaside track and has developed five Eclipse Award champions since breaking out on his own in 1994.
In other words, the 49-year-old native of Dearborn, Mich., is crazy. Crazy like a fox.
“For a million dollars and in our own backyard, it’s worth taking a shot,” O’Neill said on the telephone Thursday morning while supervising a string of horses at Los Alamitos.
Especially when Arrogate, thought to be invincible after four consecutive Grade I victories, threw in a clunker in his return from Dubai on July 22. Folks are wondering if a distaste for a tiring but safe main track at Del Mar might leave the even-money favorite vulnerable on Saturday in a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
Like the rest of us, O’Neill was stunned by Arrogate’s fourth-place finish in the Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar when the 4-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt was beaten by 15¼ lengths.
“We’d never seen that out of him,” O’Neill said. “He’s always tried so hard and been so dominating. It made you realize that even the great ones are not machines and they can have their bad days like humans do. We’re hoping he has a safe trip (Saturday), but another flop would be good for us.”
O’Neill’s two Pacific Classic entries already have a leg up on Arrogate in that they’ve shown they like Del Mar’s deep track. Donworth, 15-1 on the morning line, goes in after running second in the San Diego Handicap to Accelerate, and Curlin Road (20-1) just won the Grade III Cougar II Handicap by a nose under Flavien Prat on July 26.
O’Neill acknowledges both horses are longshots Saturday, but he made a case for both two days before the Grade I event.
“I think (Donworth’s) race in the San Diego really tightened him up for this,” he said. “I just think a fit, healthy Donworth has a chance. He’s a horse that’s always showed a Grade I type of talent. He’s just been plagued by little injuries here and there. I think a good, clean trip, and if he moves forward, which I think he will off that race, I think he…