The party began at the trainer’s barn at Churchill Downs, moved to a charity dinner and ended up at a downtown hotel where the colt’s owner, J. Paul Reddam, had reserved the 25th floor for about 100 people.
As O’Neill walked to his room, he saw dozens of morning newspapers lining the hallway. The bold black headline blared, “I’ll Have Another!” with a huge photo of the chestnut colt edging past Bodemeister to win the Derby by 1½ lengths.
“Whoa, that really was an unbelievable feeling,” the trainer said. “That was another stamp that it really happened.”
O’Neill isn’t wasting any time in sending I’ll Have Another to Maryland for the second leg of the Triple Crown. The colt will fly from Louisville to Baltimore today, making him the earliest arriving Derby winner since Monarchos showed up at Pimlico four days after his 2001 win.
I’ll Have Another is in position to win horse racing’s first Triple Crown since 1978 when Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes within a five-week span.
“I get goose bumps just thinking about it,” O’Neill said. “I think he is the kind of horse who can maintain his form and keep it going.”
I’ll Have Another likely will be seeing some of his old rivals again in Baltimore.
Seven Derby horses might run in the Preakness, led by runner-up Bodemeister. The other possibilities are Went the Day Well (fourth), Creative Cause (fifth), Liaison (sixth), Union Rags (seventh), Hansen (ninth) and Optimizer (11th). Went the Day Well sustained a cut on his right front ankle in the Derby, but trainer Graham Motion said it wasn’t a problem.
Seven new candidates are on tap, too.
They are: Pretension and Brimstone Island, the top two finishers in the Canonero II Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico; Cozzetti; Hierro and Paynter, the top two finishers in the Derby Trial at Churchill; Jerome Stakes winner The Lumber Guy; and Tiger Walk.
O’Neill, based at Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., last ran a horse in Maryland six years ago when Thor’s Echo won the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash on his way to winning an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top sprinter. Reddam has owned one previous Preakness starter – Wilko, who was 12th in 2005.
O’Neill plans to briefly return to California before heading back East this week. He told his young son and daughter that if I’ll Have Another won the Derby, the family would get a hot tub.
“We are going to have to do some shopping now,” he said.