NEW YORK | Jockey Mario Gutierrez snapped photos on the Manhattan rooftop deck while everyone with a camera or camera phone tried to take shots of him. Doug O’Neill, drink in hand, entertained guests who were there for his party. I’ll Have Another’s part.
O’Neill, Gutierrez and Co. got a fancy New York City welcome at the Belmont Stakes luncheon and reception Tuesday, where there was every attempt to at least mention the other horses. But I’ll Have Another’s bid for the Triple Crown made it much more festive than in most years.
“It’s been great. Just humbled by the whole thing,” O’Neill said from the seventh floor deck at Rockefeller Center. “I can’t believe January we were talking about really focusing on 2-year-olds, the future and what’s going on. And all of a sudden here we are in June talking about the Triple Crown. It’s been an unbelievable journey in a short period of time.”
Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another are soaking it in too, he said. The 27-year-old jockey who was off the radar just two months ago was the person everyone wanted to talk to during his first day in the big city.
“They both seem to be thriving on all the attention and all the excitement,” O’Neill said. “Instead of getting nervous and anxious, they’re getting excited and pumped up.”
But O’Neill enjoyed the spotlight plenty and has been since I’ll Have Another’s long-shot victory in Louisville.
“This has all been such a whirlwind,” he said. “It’s been an absolute blast.”
But he admitted he hasn’t been recognized in New York City, despite all the recent fame in horse racing circles.
“No. I still get the table by the restroom at every restaurant I get in,” O’Neill said. “It’s convenient, though, if you drink a lot. So you’ve got to look at all the positives.”