Los Angeles radio host Tim Conway Jr. set the tone at a “roast” of Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill on Saturday night, saying “Most horses when they're done go out to pasture or to stud. Dougie's go to the Betty Ford Clinic.”
Then there was the night's theme song, “Milkshake,” made popular a decade ago by R&B artist Kelis, and the after dinner treat, a tasty chocolate shake. A host of “friends” took shots at O'Neill, who of course got in the last word.
The roast, emceed by popular San Diego radio hosts Scott Kaplan and Billy Ray Smith, benefitted the Great Friends Foundation, which provides college scholarships to the children of military families and first responders in the San Diego area. Craig Dado, Del Mar's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, serves as the foundation's treasurer.
Conway was the first of several who touched on O'Neill's Triple Crown in 2012 with I'll Have Another and the controversy surrounding the suspension for a TCO2 overage (commonly called milkshakes) that the trainer served last summer.
Conway noted that O'Neill was far down the trainer standings at the current Del Mar meeting (he had just 3 wins from 49 starts), reading down the leaders' list and noting that none of the other trainers showed up to roast him.
Joe Harper, the CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, piled on when he had his turn at the mic, after pictures from 2012 shown on video screens featured a bearded, bald-headed O'Neill almost always wearing a fedora. “You took the hat off and grew hair, and now you can't win a race,” Harper said to O'Neill. “What happened?”
Then there was track announcer and TVG analyst Frank Mirahmadi, who followed a glowing tribute of O'Neill by Del Mar and Santa Anita track announcer Trevor Denman. Mirahmadi, who works impressions into some of his race calls, did his entire routine in character as an “evil” Trevor Denman. “I'd rather be watching cats mating than be here tonight,” he said in a South African accent.
Mirahmadi as Denman brought up the 2012 Pacific Classic post position draw incident between O'Neill's best friend, the short-lived Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge, and Jill Baffert, wife of rival trainer Bob Baffert. The public spat between Verge and the Bafferts may have been the tipping point that led to Verge's departure from Santa Anita last fall.
“A year ago you were running Santa Anita and now you're back to renting two-bedroom apartments,” he scoffed. Verge runs Westside Rentals, a real estate rental company.
There were numerous references to the Bafferts, who were spoofed in a video featuring O'Neill stable's Steve Rothblum wearing a white wig and dark sunglasses and owner Dave Kenney donning a blonde wig – both of them sending their regrets for not being able to attend.
Others taking shots at O'Neill were TVG's Todd Schrupp, who used visual aids to help the trainer understand the difference between an actual milkshake and a TCO2 positive, and I'll Have Another's owner, Paul Reddam, who remembered how eager and enthusiastic O'Neill was when Reddam had his first horse with him – a small share in a $20,000 claimer.
“Doug called me every day,” Reddam said, “telling me he's training good good good.” Reddam then went on to explain the difference in O'Neill-speak between a horse doing “really, really good,” “really good,” “good,” and “okay.”
Verge, who has been O'Neill's friend since their childhood in Santa Monica, recalled that O'Neill was on the heavy side during his youth and he would come to the beach and provide shade to people.
Then it was time for O'Neill, dressed in a tux, black and white patent-leather shoes and watching the proceedings from a throne on-stage.
“This roast actually lasted longer than Mark Verge did at Santa Anita,” said O'Neill. He took his shots everyone who had roasted him, including Del Mar's Harper, noting that he was the grandson of Hollywood movie legend Cecil B. DeMille. Even though he had a silver spoon lineage, O'Neill said, Harper had a deprived childhood. “When he was in high school, Joe had to drive a two-year-old Mercedes,” O'Neill said.
Despite the absence of his fellow trainers (most of whom were asleep by the time the roast ended) the dinner was a sell-out and included a live auction of several items that will help insure children of several military families and first responders will have an opportunity to go to college.
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