The trainer of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another has spent nearly two weeks in Baltimore, hanging with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, throwing out the first ball at an Orioles game, and hammering away at Maryland crabs for the first time.
He also huddled with Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte about racing strategy, held daily news briefings at the stakes barn and was forthcoming when asked about his history of violations for giving his horses improper drugs.
Through it all, O’Neill and his crew are enjoying the moment in their own California free-wheeling style .
“It’s been a blast. Incredible. We’ve taken advantage of it, and done some cool things,” O’Neill said Friday morning, wearing a Preakness cap signed by area school children.
“They just really rolled out the red carpet for us. Obviously, it’s a lot of fun when your horse is doing as good as he is.”
I’ll Have Another has been doing just fine since catching the speedy Bodemeister in the final 100 yards to win the Derby by 1½ lengths two weeks ago.
“He looks fantastic. Great energy,” O’Neill said. “He’s maintained his beautiful, long stride. We’re just very happy with each day that goes by.”
Life can become a whole lot happier for O’Neill if I’ll Have Another wins the Preakness. A victory over 8-5 morning-line favorite Bodemeister and nine other rivals would set up a Triple Crown attempt three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes.
It’s been 34 years since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont and became the 11th Triple Crown champion.
O’Neill isn’t even bothered that I’ll Have Another was the 5-2 second choice behind the horse he defeated.
He noted this is his first Preakness while Bodemeister’s trainer Bob Baffert has won the race five times in 11 tries.