BALTIMORE — In the aftermath of I'll Have Another's Kentucky Derby victory, trainer Doug O'Neill got a little ahead of himself in saying his colt would remain in Louisville a little while longer.
"At that moment, you love Churchill Downs and you don't ever want to leave Churchill Downs," O'Neill said. "Once everything calmed down and I huddled up with Paul Reddam, the owner, and my brother Dennis, the consensus was that as long as he comes out of the race well to get to Baltimore as soon as we could."
I'll Have Another arrived at Pimlico on Monday in preparation for the Preakness Stakes on May 19, and his trainer took the red-eye from California to join him Thursday morning. It seems like both couldn't be happier, already in a comfort zone in the chase for the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown.
"They talk to you in their body language, and he looked the part to me," O'Neill said. "He's recovered very quickly with his breathing. He just hasn't turned a hair. He's a horse that's always been calm and relaxed in the stall, which is the sign of a good race horse in my mind. He knows how to turn it on and off."
I'll Have Another turned it on in the Kentucky Derby, winning as a 15-1 long shot over Bodemeister, who again might be the favorite for the Preakness. But O'Neill's camp has the advantage of familiarity with the track, even though the Hollywood Park-based connections knew nothing of Pimlico before this week.
I'll Have Another isn't staying in the stakes barn, as Kentucky Derby winners are accustomed to. Instead, he's in stall No. 17 in the back barn and has settled in nicely.
"This is beautiful here. I had just asked the Pimlico representatives, they came the morning after the Derby and were so kind, [saying], 'Whatever you want,' " O'Neill recalled. "I said, 'I would like somewhere really peaceful.' That was my thing, just somewhere real quiet. I love it here."
And O'Neill loves the way his colt looks. Thursday, he took a gallop on the muddy track at Pimlico and was again impressive.
"After running that big of a race and then it only being four days ago and here on a new track, a new barn area, he looks fantastic," O'Neill said. "His appetite is great. You can see his coat is shiny. He does look fantastic."
Trainers being optimistic about their horses is nothing new, but with the Preakness still more than a week away, building up a wave of good workouts and getting even more used to the surroundings could help toward winning another huge race.
"Even though he's a horse ... you can tell he's got a great mind," O'Neill said. "I just liked the fact of getting him on this track here and getting a feel for it. I just figure it can't hurt."
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