I’ll Have Another was led to the track by Lava Man – a $5 million earner during his career, who is a stable pony in retirement – and galloped smartly once around the track under exercise rider Jonny Garcia. It was the first time the Flower Alley colt was allowed to gallop since he won the Kentucky Derby early Saturday evening at Churchill Downs. O’Neill went home to California on Sunday and his staff traveled with the colt to Pimlico on Monday.
“I thought he looked fantastic,” O’Neill said. “He had his caddy Arnold Palmer with him, Lava Man, and they were just like we were back home. Those two were absolutely great together, full of energy but composed. One of the great things about I’ll Have Another is he’s got such a beautiful, long stride. You saw it here today. He’s maintained that on whatever surface he’s on. That’s what I was looking for. I just wanted to see him really stretch and he did. He looks no worse for the wear. He looks great.”
I’ll Have Another gallops along at such a rapid pace that he appears to be doing a timed breeze.
"Back home, there's times he gallops, he'll be going by workers, which is a little bit embarrassing for the guys working horses,” O’Neill said. “He's a special colt, as you can see. His normal gallops are almost like two-minute licks. The biggest thing is, as long as you’re not forcing him to do that, you're fine. If you've got to ask him to do that every day, you're going to drain a horse. If that's their natural clip, you keep them happy and they maintain good overall health. So far, so good.”
O’Neill said I’ll Have Another gets a lot of out his gallops and that is part of the stable’s approach to prepping horses for races.
“Our thing is, always by the end of the gallop to let them put their feet where they want to put them,” O’Neill said. “With the theory being that they learn to breathe like they do in a racing setting and they’re less apt to take a bad step if you just let them put their feet where they want to put them, instead of fighting them and forcing them.
“Jonny is one of our top exercise riders and he’s just such a brilliant hand that way. I loved what I saw this morning. That’s exactly the way he was training back home. If we can make him maintain that, we should be able to maintain his afternoon form.”
During the few days he was back in California, O’Neill talked with Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who won the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Alysheba.
“He gave me some suggestions of not working the colt here, just galloping, which we were planning on doing,” O’Neill said. “It’s nice talking to guys who have already been here and done it. There is nothing like information from a Hall of Fame horseman. I feel very good about what we plan on doing preparing him for the Preakness.”
O’Neill said he wasn’t bothered by reports that Derby runner-up Bodemeister might be a morning-line favorite in the 137th Preakness on May 19. I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez caught and passed the speedy Bob Baffert-trained colt in the final 100 yards of the Kentucky Derby.
“I can see that,” O’Neill said. “Bodemeister did run a huge race and coming here, the distance is going to be shorter, I could see where the handicappers would give him an edge. The great thing about our colt is that he’s got enough natural speed; Bodemeister won’t get an easy lead. If he’s the only speed in there, I’ll Have Another just won’t be that far behind him. Mario knows this colt great and we’ll just have to have a little bit different tactics. We’ll have to play it by ear, but I have all the confidence in my colt that he can bring that same race back here to Baltimore a week from Saturday.”
The outgoing O’Neill runs an upbeat operation and is embracing all the opportunities that come with training a Kentucky Derby winner heading into the Preakness. Among them, he has accepted an invitation to throw out the first pitch of the Tuesday night game between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
“I’m having an absolute blast,” he said. “Back home, I did the Jim Rome Show. I did all these cool interviews. I was at the Lakers game the other night and they interviewed us, Mario and I. It’s been an absolute dream. Who knows if we’ll ever do this again? Hopefully, we’ll do this multiple times, but we’re soaking it all up and enjoying every moment of it.”
O’Neill arrived at Pimlico from Baltimore-Washington International Airport about 30 minutes before I’ll Have Another went out to the track Thursday morning. Considering everything the colt has been through, O’Neill said he is delighted with how he is doing.
“They talk to you in their body language and he sure 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 racehorse in my mind. He knows how to turn it on and off. What we just saw there, this morning, that's what we saw every day at Hollywood Park prior to coming to Churchill. So I feel very good right now.”
WENT THE DAY WELL – Team Valor International and Mark Ford’s Went the Day Well jogged and galloped in a field Thursday morning at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
“He jogged two turns in a field behind my barn and galloped two turns,” said trainer Graham Motion, whose colt closed strongly after early trouble to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby. “I’ll probably take him up to the track tomorrow and gallop him a mile.”
Motion, who shipped 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom from Fair Hill on race day last year, is planning on bringing Went the Day Well to Pimlico sooner.
“I’ll gallop him through the weekend and decide when,” Motion said.
Animal Kingdom made a five-wide drive to finish second, a half-length behind Shackleford, in last year’s Preakness after a slow start. Motion said Went the Day Well should benefit from being on the Pimlico grounds prior to race day.
“I think I found the track a little different last year, particularly towards the outside. It’s something I want to get him used to, plus he’s kind of an immature acting horse and I want to get him used to his surroundings,” Motion said.
CREATIVE CAUSE -- Heinz Steinmann’s multiple graded-stakes winner remains on course toward the Preakness, trainer Mike Harrington said Thursday.
The gray son of Giant’s Causeway jogged one lap and then galloped a second circuit at Hollywood Park Thursday morning.
“He’s doing OK,” Harrington said. “He doesn’t have any problems. He still seems maybe a little quieter than normal, but he’s going in the right direction.”
Creative Cause finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
BODEMEISTER/LIAISON/PAYNTER – At Churchill Downs on a clear, cool Thursday morning, Zayat Stables LLC and Michel and Tiffany Moreno’s Bodemeister, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby (G1), jogged a mile before the renovation break on a fast track under exercise rider George Alvarez with assistant trainer Jim Barnes alongside on a pony.
After the break, Zayat Stables’ Paynter, runner-up in The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (G3) in his most recent start, visited the starting gate under Alvarez and then galloped a little more than a mile. Following Paynter out was Arnold Zetcher’s Liaison, sixth in the Kentucky Derby. With Alvarez up, Liaison galloped 1 ½ miles.
All three colts are considered possible for the Preakness, but their status will not be confirmed until after trainer Bob Baffert returns to Louisville this weekend from Southern California.
PRETENSION – Kidwells Petite Stable’s Pretension galloped 1 ½ miles at Bowie Training Center Thursday morning for a possible start in the Preakness Stakes.
The son of Bluegrass Cat, who captured the Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico last Saturday, sat 12th on the list of Preakness prospects seeking spots in the 14-horse field.
“It looks like he’s in the field, but the owner hasn’t made up his mind whether he wants to run or not,” trainer Chris Grove said. “He’s supposed to come in Friday or Saturday and we’ll talk about it.”
COZZETTI/DULLAHAN – Donegal Racing’s Dullahan, third in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday, galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar at Churchill Downs.
Also on the track after the break for trainer Dale Romans was the Albaugh Family Stables’ Cozzetti. Fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his most recent start, Cozzetti galloped 1 ½ miles under Romero Cordache.
HANSEN – Eclipse Award winner Hansen, ninth in the Kentucky Derby, galloped 1 ¼ miles under exercise rider Joel Barrientos at Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Center. Trained by Mike Maker, Hansen is owned by Dr. Kendall Hansen and Skychai Racing.
HIERRO/ISN’T HE CLEVER – Both of trainer Steve Asmussen’s possible Preakness starters, Stonestreet Stables’ Hierro and J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Isn’t He Clever visited the starting gate at Churchill Downs as part of their morning exercise.
Hierro won The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (G3) in his most recent start. Isn’t He Clever finished eighth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his previous start.
OPTIMIZER – Bluegrass Hall’s Optimizer was one of the first horses on the track at Churchill Downs Thursday morning, galloping 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Joel Cano.
Trained by five-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas, Optimizer ran 11th in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 12 lengths behind the victorious I’ll Have Another.
Optimizer, who surged onto the Triple Crown trail with a furious second-place finish in the Rebel (G2), ran ninth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) beaten by 20 ½ lengths in an effort that left Lukas puzzled.
The Kentucky Derby effort by Optimizer was better in Lukas’ mind.
“He was pinned down on the inside,” Lukas said. “When I saw the aerial shot of the race, I was really surprised at how bad it (his trip) was.”
Should Optimizer produce a sixth Preakness victory for Lukas, it would mark the biggest turnaround for a Derby runner in the Preakness since Louis Quatorze rebounded from a 16th-place finish in Louisville to win at Pimlico two weeks later.
Lukas plans to van Optimizer to Pimlico on Tuesday with an early-morning departure. Optimizer will have company on the van as Lukas plans to send three or four other horses to Old Hilltop.
Among horses that Lukas has nominated to Preakness Weekend stakes are Colonial Empress (Black-Eyed Susan), who finished 11th in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Hamazing Destiny (Maryland Sprint Handicap), who was seventh in the Churchill Downs (G2), Absinthe Minded (Allaire DuPont Distaff), who was fourth in the La Troienne (G2), and Skyring (Chick Lang), an allowance winner last Saturday.
TEETH OF THE DOG – J.W. Singer LLC’s Teeth of the Dog was entered for Saturday’s Peter Pan Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park but is expected to be scratched in favor of the Preakness Stakes.
“He’d only run (in the Peter Pan) if it looked like he wouldn’t get in the Preakness,” trainer Michael Matz said.
As of Thursday, Teeth of the Dog was 11th on the list of Preakness prospects vying for spots in the 14-horse field.
TIGER WALK – Sagamore Farm’s Tiger Walk galloped 1 3/8 miles at the historic farm in Glyndon, Md. Thursday morning.
Trainer Ignacio Correas said a decision on who will ride Tiger Walk in the Preakness should be made within a day or two.
Tiger Walk, who finished fourth in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct last time out, is scheduled to work at Pimlico on Sunday.
Correas and Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm are pointing two other horses to Preakness Weekend Stakes. Millionreasonswhy, a Grade 2 stakes winner who came within a neck of defeating champion My Miss Aurelia in the Adirondack (G2) at Saratoga last summer, is scheduled to run in the Miss Preakness on Friday. Humble and Hungry, who captured the Commonwealth Turf (G3) at Churchill last fall, is set to make his second start of the year in the Dixie (G2) on Saturday.