"The highest of the highs," trainer Doug O'Neill said Sunday morning of the emotions that winning Kentucky Derby 138 with I'll Have Another brought.
The Flower Alley colt, owned by J. Paul Reddam's Reddam Racing LLC, looked the picture of health as he exited Stall 17 in Barn 3 to get his legs washed off at 6:20 a.m. (EST) Sunday morning.
"He looks great this morning and a key thing is he ate up last night after the race," said O'Neill, who finally got around to having dinner with his team after midnight.
O'Neill, who was returning to his home base in Southern California later Sunday, plans to return to Louisville, Kentucky, midweek with an early departure planned for Pimlico and the Preakness, the second jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown.
"I will be back in two or three days," said O'Neill, who later in the morning informed Churchill Downs Stall Superintendant Steve Hargrave that I'll Have Another would ship to Pimlico Monday afternoon. "I'd like to get him over there and get settled in."
Sitting at the apex of the highest of the highs, O'Neill is now in position with I'll Have Another to bring the sport its first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
"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."
Under first-time Kentucky Derby rider Mario Gutierrez, I'll Have Another became the first horse in Derby history to win from post position 19.
"I don't think we were more than four wide at any time in the race," O'Neill said. "I heard some of the horses on the inside had some problems, but we got a smooth trip."
Also making the trip to Pimlico with I'll Have Another is Lava Man, the 11-year-old earner of more than $5.2 million who ponied the Derby winner during his Churchill Downs stay.
"He has taken three horses to the post," O'Neill said of Lava Man. "They won the (Grade 1) Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and a horse I ran here Friday, Unex Dali, who ran second on Friday but thinks he won. Lava Man makes a pretty good caddie."
Before returning to Kentucky, O'Neill has some pressing business to attend to in California.
"When we started talking about the Derby, I told the kids (son Daniel and daughter Kaylin Dixie) that we would get a hot tub if he won the Derby," O'Neill said. "We are going to have to do some shopping now."
Out west in California, everyone connected to Team O'Neill were still ecstatic the morning after I'll Have Another's brilliant victory, including assistant trainer Leandro Mora.
"It was too bad I couldn't go," Mora said. "I was supposed to go (Saturday), but I couldn't because we had horses running here (at Hollywood Park) and we have to take care of business. But that's alright, because it's still the same great feeling. Doug called me after the Derby to give me some congrats. So now we're just enjoying it.
"I spoke to the boys this morning and he looks fine. I guess they were worried about him getting too hot after the race. It took a long time with the ceremonies and things like that, but they gave him a bath right there on the track and everything was cool."
I'll Have Another, whose base of operations has been at Hollywood, is now the toast of California.
"This is such a great little horse. He hasn't done anything wrong for us," Mora added. "I'm so happy for Mario (Gutierrez), he's such a cool kid. Before the wire, he was riding like it was just another race. I think I was more nervous than he was. We're looking forward to the next one."
Ivan Puhich, longtime agent and currently representing Gutierrez, was surprisingly low-key about the monumental victory.
"I just watched the race home alone. I've been around too long to get excited," Puhich said. "I never yelled. I quit yelling when I was around 15 years old."