In front of a record crowd of 121,309, Reddam Racing’s chestnut colt edged Bodemeister by a neck in the 137th Preakness Saturday afternoon to become the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 to win the first two legs of the series. He will try to become the 12th horse to capture American racing’s most treasured prize – and the first since Affirmed in 1978 – in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
“My dreams always ended with winning the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “They never were followed up with winning the Preakness and going to the Belmont. That’s a new dream now I’m waiting to pull off.”
O’Neill said that I’ll Have Another came out of the race well and was happy with his appearance when he arrived at the barn at 6 a.m. Sunday morning.
“He looked great,” O’Neill said. “He had licked his feed tub. Once we cleaned the poultice off, his legs were ice cold. He had good energy.”
I’ll Have Another was loaded onto a van at 9:05 a.m. for the journey to Belmont Park.
The thrilling Preakness victory pushed I’ll Have Another’s record to 4-0 this season. He returned from a nearly five-month layoff due to sore shins with a win in the Robert Lewis (G2) on Feb. 4. On April 7, he added the Santa Anita Derby (G1) to his resume before winning the Kentucky Derby on May 5. O’Neill said the colt is well-suited to handle the demanding 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, the longest of the three races and called “The Test of the Champion.”
“He’s got the mind,” O’Neill said. “You’ve seen the way he’s handled the attention in Kentucky and here in Baltimore. He’s got a great confidence about him and he’s got the stride of a horse that a mile and a half won’t be a problem. He’s got the pedigree; so much stamina on the female side.
“And he’s lightly raced. After winning the Bob Lewis it enabled us to give him plenty of time before his next start. He’s still a fresh, happy, thriving horse that just seems to be getting better and better.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill is prepared for the attention and demands on his time that will come his way between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
“Bring it on,” he said. “We’re ready.”
O’Neill spent a few hours at the post-race party in the barn area hosted by the Maryland Jockey Club, but ended his celebrating around 10 p.m.
“Lynette and I and the kids ended up going back to the hotel and getting room service,” he said. “And the kids were doing a lot of gymnastics moves off the bed. It was kind of a mellow evening once we got back into the hotel.
“Here it was just a fun house party. We kept saying ‘I hope mom and dad don’t show up. We’re all going to be in trouble.’ It’s something I had never experienced before in my life, the amount of enthusiasm and positivity and love for horse racing. It was a dream come true for anyone involved in the business.”
Assistant trainer Jack Sisterson and several members of O’Neill’s staff went with the colt to Belmont Park. O’Neill and his family were scheduled to fly home to California on owner J. Paul Reddam’s private jet. After checking on his horses at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, O’Neill said he would probably travel to New York in about a week.
In all likelihood, O’Neill said, he won’t make any changes in I’ll Have Another’s training program during the three weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes.
“We’ll have to play that by ear,” he said. “It depends on the weather and all that stuff, but we’ll maintain the same type of exercise that he’s had. There’s the old line about you can’t take a sprinter and train him two miles and make a router out of him and you can’t take a router and work them three-eighths every week and make a sprinter out of him.
“If we’ve got a true route horse, which we do, he’s going to maintain his fitness and his exercise. If they can go a mile and a half they will. And he will.”
While the Derby and Preakness had similar storylines with I’ll Have Another catching and passing Bodemeister near the wire, O’Neill said his personal emotions watching the stretch runs were not the same.
“Winning the Derby was an out-of-body experience. It was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.’” he said. “The Preakness, the expectations were obviously a lot higher. It was almost like, ‘C’mon boy, C’mon.’”
O’Neill acknowledged that there were moments in the duel through the stretch that it looked like I’ll Have Another might not overtake Bodemeister.
“He was running such a brilliant race and even if he had run second he would have run brilliantly,” O’Neill said. “You don’t want to run second when you run that good, and I’m glad he didn’t.”
BODEMEISTER – After another agonizingly tough loss to I’ll Have Another in the Preakness, Zayat Stables and Michel and Tiffany Moreno’s colt was flown back to California Sunday morning. He will remain in training, but will skip the Belmont Stakes.
“I’ve had enough,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert quipped.
Baffert said that Bodemeister appeared to be in good condition before leaving the Pimlico Stakes Barn for Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
“He was actually pretty happy today,” Baffert said. “He ate up, got on a plane and headed back to California. He came out of it really well.”
Bodemeister set the pace in the Derby and the Preakness and each time I’ll Have Another managed to catch and pass him near the finish line. The Arkansas Derby winner turned in gallant performances in defeat.
“He’s a pretty amazing animal,” Baffert said. “He didn’t act tired. After the race, he came back to the barn and he wasn’t as tired as he was after the Derby.”
Baffert said I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister showed in the Derby and the Preakness that they are at the top of a talented crop of 3-year-olds.
“They are two really good horses,” he said. “On any given year they could probably win those races. It was a tough year.”
Baffert said that the Zayat Stables’ colt Paynter might start in the Belmont Stakes. Paynter, who won an allowance race in convincing style Saturday at Pimlico, was shipped to Belmont Park Sunday morning.
“We’re going to train him there,” Baffert said. “If it looks like he snapped out of his race, we’ll run him in the Belmont if he looks really good.”
CREATIVE CAUSE – The third-place finisher in Preakness 137 boarded a van Sunday morning to head for Baltimore-Washington International Airport for a scheduled 9 a.m. flight back to Los Angeles and his home base of Hollywood Park.
“He came out of the race OK,” said trainer Mike Harrington minutes before putting the son of Giant’s Causeway on the van. “Back to California, regroup.”
Harrington surprised some observers when he sent Creative Cause home after his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, before bringing him back to Pimlico the following week for the Preakness. He said he is now contemplating one more cross-country venture to compete in the Belmont Stakes.
“I’d say right now it’s 50-50,” said Harrington, who was scheduled to get on a flight Sunday evening with assistant/exercise rider John Cisneros for the trip home.
“He ran his heart out,” Cisneros said. “He didn’t have any trouble at all. He ran hard, and I thought he was going to win it. Today he was very alert and happy. Actually he was jumping up and down when he was walking.”
The Belmont would be Creative Cause’s sixth race midway through his sophomore season. The San Felipe (G 2) winner has only been out of the money once in 10 career starts, that coming in his fifth-place finish in the Derby.
ZETTERHOLM – Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Sunday that the Winter Park Partners’ Zetterholm appeared to come out of his fourth-place finish in the Preakness in good order.
The New York-bred son of Silver Train was shipped back to Dutrow’s barn at Aqueduct Sunday morning.
“I got what I wanted from the race,” Dutrow said. “I was hoping and praying for a third or fourth-place finish. We got the fourth-place finish and we left there satisfied, but I did not see my horse run big. I know he put in his little effort there, but I thought he could have run better. He didn’t change leads, which is very unlike him, and he didn’t get along so well with the track.”
TEETH OF THE DOG – Trainer Michael Matz reported that J. W. Singer’s Teeth of the Dog exited his fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Preakness in good condition.
“I was happy with the way he ran. He’s kind of inexperienced and he’s probably not as good as those horses right now,” said Matz from Fair Hill Training Center Sunday morning.
Teeth of the Dog will be not run in the Belmont Stakes, but Matz has the horse that may well be Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another’s most dangerous foe in his quest for a Triple Crown sweep. Union Rags, who finished a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby, was held out of the Preakness to train for the Belmont Stakes.
Union Rags captured the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park last fall. Matz is confident that Union Rags will be well suited to the 1 ½ -mile oval, the sweeping turns and the relatively deep racing surface.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Matz said. “He’s won there before, so I don’t think that part of it will be a problem.”
OPTIMIZER – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won back-to-back stakes races on the Preakness undercard but finished sixth in the main event, exited Pimlico shortly after dawn with his entourage early Sunday for the long van ride back to Louisville.
“He’s fine; he came out of the race in good shape,” Lukas said by phone while on the highway home. “We’re going to get home and Mr. Kelley (owner Brad) and I talked last night and we’re going to talk a little bit further when we get back.”
Lukas said before the Preakness he believed the son of English Channel was probably better suited to the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes than either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. He finished 11th in the Derby in some traffic, then got going late to split the field in the Preakness at odds of 23-1.
“I would say we’re probable for the Belmont just because of the distance and the different configuration of the race track,” said Lukas, who has won the Belmont Stakes four times in his storied career. Lukas last took the Belmont in 2000 with long shot Commendable, following three consecutive victories from 1994-96 with Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch and Editor’s Note.
“I’d say it’s 50-50 right now,” he said. “The winner (I’ll Have Another) is a nice horse, but we’re not going to hand it (the Triple Crown) to him. He’s got to earn it.”
COZZETTI – The seventh-place finisher in Preakness 137 returned to his home base at Churchill Downs Sunday, where trainer Dale Romans will decide whether to continue on to Belmont or embark on a grass campaign to take advantage of his attractive turf pedigree.
“I’m not sure,” Romans said when asked if he would go onto the Belmont Stakes with Albaugh Family Stable’s son of grass champion Cozzene. “We’ll regroup. We’ve got to figure out why he’s not running better. He’s a better horse than he’s shown. Once we get back to Kentucky, we’ll figure him out.”
Even if Romans bypasses the Belmont with Cozzetti, he has another candidate that he’s more than a little excited about in Dullahan.
“He worked Saturday morning (five furlongs in 1:00.20, second-best of 26) at Churchill,” Romans said of the Blue Grass winner and Kentucky Derby show finisher. “He’s on track for a big Belmont.”
Romans, who won the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford, decided not to run in the Preakness and give Dullahan extra rest for the Belmont Stakes.
“It should help him,” he said. “He’ll be a fresher horse.”
WENT THE DAY WELL – Team Valor International and Mark Ford’s Went the Day Well was reported to have come out of a 10th-place finish in the Preakness in good order.
“He seems OK. He has a couple of scrapes, but all in all, he’s good,” said trainer Graham Motion from Fair Hill Training Center Sunday morning.
Motion could offer no concrete reason for the disappointing effort that followed a strong fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
“Maybe the Derby took more out of him that I realized. I just don’t know,” Motion said.
Went the Day Well is unlikely to go on to the Belmont Stakes.
“I think we’ll point to some of the summer races like the Travers,” Motion said.
TIGER WALK – Trainer Ignacio Correas and his eighth-place Preakness runner were back at Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm Sunday morning, having departed Pimlico Saturday night for the 20-minute van ride home.
“He came out of the race good,” Correas said. “He just walked today. He was probably a little tired.”
The Preakness was Tiger Walk’s fourth race as a 3-year-old, all stakes, but his only in-the-money finish came in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct in February in his seasonal debut.
Correas said he thought the son of Tale of the Cat would probably not be heading to New York for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I haven’t talked to Kevin about it yet. We’re going to talk during the week, but I don’t think so.”
PRETENSION – Trainer Chris Grove reported from Bowie Training Center that Kidwells Petite Stable’s Pretension came out of his 11th-place finish in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in good order.
“He’s in great shape. No problems, “I think we’ll probably head for the Mike Lee in late June,” said Grove, referring to the Belmont Park stakes that’s restricted to New York-bred horses.