BALTIMORE — I’ll Have Another poked his head out of his stall, started nibbling on his nameplate tacked to a wall and looked up at all the people watching his every move.
Yes, I’ll Have Another came out of his thrilling Preakness victory over Bodemeister in “super shape,” trainer Doug O’Neill said Sunday, and now it’s on to New York for a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
“We’re ready. Bring it on,” O’Neill said as he held court outside the stall of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. “I can’t put into words how incredible it is. We’re just on Cloud 9. It’s super exciting.”
The colorful and controversial trainer returned to his home base in California later Sunday, and has begun making plans for the trip to New York in the next week or so. I’ll Have Another, meanwhile, was loaded onto a horse van en route for Belmont Park. O’Neill’s assistant, Jack Sisteron, will oversee the chestnut colt until O’Neill and the rest of his team arrive.
The trainer took time to soak in the moment at Pimlico, and contemplate the pressure-packed days that await leading to the first Triple Crown attempt since 2008. It will be the 12th try since 1978, when Affirmed won thoroughbred racing’s most elusive prize.
“It hasn’t completely sunk in yet,” he said. “The party out here after the race was like wow! I’ve never seen anything like that – everyone so excited about horse racing and I’ll Have Another 2 for 2. I definitely feel the energy and buzz in the air.”
He hasn’t seen anything yet.
The Triple Crown quest brought some tantalizingly close calls since Affirmed turned back Alydar in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont 34 years ago – the longest drought between Triple Crown champions.
J. Paul Reddam, who owns I’ll Have Another, would like nothing better than to have his horse join the equine pantheon of Triple Crown heroes that includes Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Citation. He’s just not ready to deal with the three-week buildup to a race also known as the “Test of The Champion.”
“I’m actually not looking forward to the next three weeks at all,” Reddam said.