Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another is one regal-looking horse, a real show-stopper with a distinctive white, diamond-shaped patch on his forehead.
As he moved around a back barn at Pimlico Race Course on Wednesday, the chestnut colt trained by Doug O’Neill made the other horses look like fly-ridden plow nags.
Now the question is: is he just another attractive Derby winner that will wilt in the pressurized environment of the Preakness a week from Saturday?
Or can he duplicate the amazing run he had at Churchill Downs five days ago and make the Preakness special by giving us a legitimate Triple Crown hope?
Two days after arriving at Pimlico, I’ll Have Another had Barn D pretty much to himself, except for a few media types and a small platoon of bored-looking security guards stationed about the place.
He’s the first Derby winner since Monarchos in 2001 to ship here within a week of winning at Churchill Downs. The thought was to give him as much time as possible to acclimate to the new track, and to house him in a secluded area where he could get some rest.
But that doesn’t mean assistant trainer Jack Sisterson hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his stall. Or let him sleep in.
So early Wednesday, under dishwater-gray skies, the son of Flower Alley got his first look at the Pimlico track, going for a light jog under exercise rider Johnny Garcia that lasted about a mile.
Apparently, Sisterson and the rest of Team O’Neill liked what it saw.
Pimlico, in the first light of a misty morning, is not the most inspiring sight in the world. The aging track can look dreary when it’s not dressed up for the Preakness, like a worn dowager without her make-up.
But the colt seemed to find everything just fine.
“His energy level is fantastic,” Sisterson said. “It’s something we want to see, his first time back on the track . . . You wouldn’t want to see him with his head down going along there.
“As soon as he knew he was going back to the track, he (was) just full of energy. . . . He couldn’t wait to get back out there. It’s as if he never had a race.”
The truth, of course, is that the horse is coming off an altogether grueling test at Churchill Downs.
As a 15-to-1 long shot, he shocked favorite Bodemeister — who ran a terrific race, with some of the fastest fractions in Derby history — and won by 1 1/2 lengths, coming from five lengths back in the front stretch.
It’s still unclear if Bodemeister will race in the Preakness on May 19. Trainer Bob Baffert said he’ll make a decision on that this weekend, when he’ll fly to Churchill Downs to see the horse for himself.
But talk of Bodemeister possibly being installed as the pre-race favorite for the Preakness was already swirling around Pimlico yesterday.
“If they want to put Bodemeister there, you know, it’s fine with us,” Sisterson said. “Come race day, let the best horse win.”
As the sun finally broke through the clouds, there was also the inevitable talk of I’ll Have Another’s chances of winning the Triple Crown, something no horse has done since Affirmed in 1978.
Team O’Neill feels its colt is still maturing, with only five starts before the Kentucky Derby. And the horse’s unflappable nature could serve it well in big races like the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
“You’d think he was an 8-year-old horse — been there, done that,” Sisterson said.
But Sisterson also seemed to feel that any talk of winning the Triple Crown was premature at this point.
“We never want to get too ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Obviously you win in the Kentucky Derby . . . it’s always in the back of your mind. But we’ll take each day as it comes, day by day.”
Fine. Be a killjoy, Sisterson.
Still, it might be fun to see the Preakness won by a horse that got its name when its owners were eating cookies one night and murmuring “I’ll have another” as they reached for the tin.
By mid-morning Wednesday, I’ll Have Another’s day was pretty much over. After his jog, he cooled out and was given a bath. Then he returned to his stall to rest.
Me, I’d kill for a schedule like that. But moments later, after Sisterson met the media and the handful of photographers and reporters had packed up their cameras and notebooks and left, Barn D was peaceful again.
Just the way the colt’s trainers like it.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."