Horse trainer Doug O'Neill and boxer Timothy Bradley became huge… (Getty Images )
The poster boys for fleeting fame are about to get back on the horse. For one of them, that expression could not be more apt.
Horse trainer Doug O'Neill and boxer Timothy Bradley have now lived the Frank Sinatra song. Riding high in April, shot down in May.
For these two totally disconnected sports people in two totally disconnected sports, the huge headlines they made in 48 hours in June joined them at the hip in the strangest of ways. They became huge names and the subjects of constant crawls along the bottom of the TV screen on ESPN, which has somehow become a measurement of sports story importance.
Now, a bit more than three months later, they are fodder for where-are-they-now stories. They are toasts of the town who are, for the moment, somewhat burned.
On Friday, June 8, in a media circus at Belmont Park in New York that was lacking only the clowns, O'Neill walked his marvelous 3-year-old thoroughbred out of a barn and told the poised notepads and microphones that I'll Have Another had a tendon injury and would not attempt to win the Triple Crown of horse racing the next day in the Belmont.
The next night, amid the standard fan circus that surrounds every major fight, Bradley left the ring at MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas with the upset of the century in his back pocket. He had beaten the unbeatable Manny Pacquiao. The kid from Palm Springs had dethroned the king from the Philippines.
It was an amazing two-day parlay. In the immediate aftermath of each, the media couldn't get enough of either. As each new angle surfaced, Internet outlets, blogs, newspapers and broadcast media spit up all over themselves. In many ways, that was understandable because their stories were so much more than just the results.
In O'Neill's case, victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness had shared the spotlight with a pending suspension for a 2-year-old case of excessive carbon dioxide in a horse he trained. It was a story that made websites and tabloid headline writers quiver.
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As for Bradley, the press and most ringside observers quickly declared his stunning victory a sham decision. The three judges received many unsolicited recommendations for eye doctors.
Now, after a summer of relative quiet and some discontent, O'Neill and Bradley will soon be walking into the buzz saw again.
O'Neill will finish serving his 45-day suspension for the CO2 violation in 11 days. He will begin training as Santa Anita opens its fall meeting, which includes this year's Breeders Cup, Friday, Sept. 28.
Through it all, he has remained both firm and upbeat. To the charges against him, he has never admitted guilt and never claimed perfection. The California Horse Racing Board suspended him under a zero-tolerance policy that said whoever trained the horse got the penalty. In the ruling, the CHRB said they found no evidence of O'Neill wrongdoing, nor evidence of motivation, just an elevated level of the carbon dioxide. During his suspension, O'Neill could not step foot in any part of any accredited race track in the country.
"It's been difficult," he said Monday. "I've learned a lot, especially about me. I've learned that my favorite vacation spot is the barns in the morning and the track in the afternoon."
Bradley hasn't fought again. He was forced back into the news recently, when Pacquiao announced that his next fight would be a fourth battle against Juan Manual Marquez, rather than a rematch against Bradley. At a news gathering Monday in Los Angeles to kick off the promotional tour for the fight, Pacquiao stuck the dagger in deeper when asked why he chose Marquez over Bradley.
"If I chose Bradley," he said, "it would just be another one-sided fight."
Bradley has reacted in contradictory terms in recent days to the announcement of the Marquez fight. He told The Times that he understood, that "it was business." He told other news outlets, including the Desert Sun, that he couldn't understand Pacquiao's decision because "any champion who loses his belt, he'd want to redeem himself."
He was also quoted in various blogs as calling Pacquiao "chicken."
Cameron Dunkin, his manager, said Monday, "We aren't as down as people think. A lot of good has happened to Tim Bradley."
Bradley will have to wait more than two months longer than O'Neill for his return. He has signed for a Dec. 15 fight on HBO, but an opponent has yet to be determined.
Despite all that has taken place, the lost stars of summer will return. Spotlights that treated them so harshly will be turned up again. They both will embrace it.
"I got frustrated when I heard certain things," O'Neill said, "but I understand the need for more transparency. That goes for the decision-making of the CHRB too. I even think that a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner should, indeed, be held to a higher standard. I'm fine with all that. I'm coming back and I have zero regrets."
Dunkin said that it was similarly simple for Bradley.
"Tim's undefeated. He's got the belt," Dunkin said. "Now, we just have to get back in there and win some fights."
So, for O'Neill and Bradley, that's life. They need to pick themselves up and get back in the race.