LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Why is Doug O’Neill, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another, not accompanying his horse to Baltimore today to begin preparation for the May 19 Preakness?
Does he not know of our reputation for crab cakes? Has he not heard that the hottest team in baseball plays just a few miles from Pimlico? Is he offended that the drinking preference of race-day patrons swings so drastically from fine bourbon to even finer Boh for the second leg of the Triple Crown?
O’Neill, a trainer who has the look and mannerisms of a high school football coach in his native Michigan, is back in California. Among other things, he has to go hot tub shopping (he promised his kids they'd get one if he won the Derby; no word on what they're Preakness reward would be, but I'm thinking they won't be like most kids and ask for a pony). Besides, I’ll Have Another won’t need much attention at first. He was scheduled to walk the three days after catching Bodemeister down the final hundred yards of the stretch to win the 138th Kentucky Derby ON Saturday.
On Wednesday, O’Neill will arive at Pimlico to decide what to do next with I’ll Have Another. He’s got an assistant trainer, Jack Sisterson, monitoring the colt until then.
O’Neill has great faith in his horse’s ability to challenge for the first Triple Crown since 1978. As I wrote in my story for Monday’s paper, he believes I’ll Have Another is versatile enough to handle any sort of race.
As to why O’Neill decided to buck about two decades of tradition and ship the Derby winner to Pimlico early, a lot probably has to do with his entourage. He had a large crew at Churchill Downs, including about 10 horses. He seemed to overcome one disadvantage that California-based horses have had – the unfamiliar surroundings after a long trip – by keeping I’ll Have Another in his usual company. Lava Man, who has more than $5 million in earnings, has actually served as his pony. He’s one of seven other O’Neill horses set to arrive in Baltimore.
“I want to do whatever is in the best interest of the horse,” O’Neill told Mike Gathagan of Pimlico. “On paper, getting there early made sense. As long as the track is open and they let us train on it, we’re in. We’re looking forward to getting to Baltimore.”
Sandy McKee will have coverage of the arrival at the track, which is scheduled for about 4:30.
If you happen to see a police escort surrounding a horse van, it will almost certainly be the Derby winner. Even if it's not, it's probably some other awesome horse that would be worth waiving to. So go ahead and do it.