Happy Jack added to Preakness fray

One of these days, Calumet Farm’s homebred Happy Jack is due to run a big one in a big race.

Trainer Doug O’Neill hopes that day comes Saturday, May 21, when Happy Jack runs in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at historic Pimlico Race Course.

After speaking with Calumet owner Brad Kelley, O’Neill reported that Happy Jack will get a second try in this year’s Triple Crown. He finished 14th in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) at odds of 23-1. The colt is still at Churchill Downs. O’Neill, back at his California base, said Happy Jack will ship to Pimlico “probably on Tuesday.”

“We did a bunch of diagnostics on him, pulled blood,” O’Neill said. “He is checking all the boxes of a horse that exited his recent race in good shape. We like the Preakness distance, and we like a shorter field than the 20 horses in the Derby.”

Then, after a pause, O’Neill said, “Oh, by the way, his sire, Oxbow, won this race and that is kind of a cool thing.”

Oxbow, also owned by Calumet Farm, won the 2013 Preakness for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Oxbow got the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans after winning the race at odds of 15-1.

“Mr. Kelley runs a huge operation,” O’Neill said. “He has a lot of skin in the game. He loves his horses and takes no shortcuts and surrounds them with the best people he can find. If a horse is doing well and showing they can get in and compete against the finest, he is game that way. I love it. No guts, no glory.”

Of course, O’Neill has a little history of his own in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, having saddled Kentucky Derby (G1) winner I’ll Have Another for a victory in the 2012 Preakness.

Unraced as a 2-year-old, Happy Jack broke his maiden in his first career start, winning a six-furlong race at Santa Anita on Jan. 22 by 1 ¼ lengths. O’Neill was so impressed that he sent the colt to the Feb. 6 Robert B. Lewis (G3), in which he finished fifth, beaten 27 ¼ lengths.

He finished a distant third in his next two starts, the San Felipe (G2) March 5 and Santa Anita Derby (G1) April 9.

“In the mornings, Happy Jack has shown us some pretty special stuff,” O’Neill said. “To win his debut the way he did, we know there is definitely talent there. I could see him jumping up and winning a big race like this.”

O’Neill said he will put the blinkers back on Happy Jack for the Preakness. He shed them for the Derby after the colt wore them in three of his first four starts. Happy Jack will also have a new rider for the Preakness in Tyler Gaffalione. Rafael Bejarano rode him in the Derby.

“It’s not a big thing,” O’Neill said. “Tyler will be at Pimlico and Rafael was not planning on riding there [Preakness Day].” Happy Jack will gallop daily at Churchill before shipping to Pimlico Tuesday morning. O’Neill said he expects to be on the grounds either Wednesday or Thursday.

Happy Jack gallops at Churchill Downs. Photo Coady Photography.