Although he insists he is taking it one race at a time, trainer Doug O’Neill admitted May 16 that he and the others in his team are thinking about the possibility that I'll Have Another could win the Triple Crown this year.
“I would be lying if I said we haven’t been sitting around with the mallet, hitting the crabs, talking about New York,” O’Neill said after watching his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner gallop in preparation for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The 1 3/16-mile Preakness is the second leg of the coveted Triple Crown that concludes with the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
“It would be fun, but it is one race at a time,” said O’Neill of the possibility that the son of Flower Alley could be the first 3-year-old since Big Brown in 2008 to go to New York with a Triple Crown on the line. “We have a great traveling team and we would love to check out New York if we get lucky enough."
While he relishes the prospect of running I’ll Have Another in the Belmont with the Triple Crown on the line, O’Neill did not rule out a start in the Belmont regardless of whether he wins or loses at Pimlico Race Course.
“It depends on how he runs and how he comes out of it (Preakness),” said O’Neill. “Right now, it’s like he’s ready to run a couple (of races) here in the upcoming weeks, so we’ll see what happens.”
Owned by Reddam Racing Stable, I’ll Have Another has won four of six starts, including three in a row—the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II), Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), and Kentucky Derby (gr. I). The colt, bred in Kentucky by Harvey Clarke and purchased by Dennis O’Neill out of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s April 2-year-olds in training sale, has earned $2,093,600.
Based in Southern California, O’Neill bucked recent trends by sending I’ll Have Another to Pimlico several days after his triumph at Churchill Downs. While in the Baltimore area, he and others in his operation have been staying in a rental house overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
In addition to overseeing the training of I’ll Have Another, O’Neill has become somewhat of an unofficial ambassador for racing and the Preakness by making several public appearances.
On May 15, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the New York Yankees-Baltimore Orioles baseball game at Camden Fields. O’Neill nearly missed the experience because he and his group were riding in a taxicab that had a hard time making it to the game due to traffic congestion.
Finally, the O’Neill group jumped out of the vehicle and sprinted about five blocks to make it on time. As the crowd on hand to eventually watch a 5-2 Orioles win cheered, the Derby stretch run was shown on the outfield video screen.
The ball sailed high and to the right but was caught by the Orioles player designated to catch O’Neill’s pitch.
“It was an incredible feeling,” O’Neill said of throwing out the first pitch. “It was kind of like a screwball. Like my golf shot it went off to the right and faded.”
Earlier in the day, the O’Neill team had spent several hours visiting with children at the Johns Hopkins University Children’s Hospital.
“Most of the kids we met knew about the Kentucky Derby and I’ll Have Another,” the trainer said. “A lot of cute kids. It’s been a great, fun day.”
In addition, O’Neill the previous week had visited the training camp for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL and had lunch with Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
Such are the rewards for winning the Kentucky Derby.
“I don’t know how it could get much better,” O’Neill said of his experience since winning the Derby, “unless they found a cure for baldness. It's been just an absolute blast. You get to find out how many people really love horses and horse racing. They just don’t know very much about it.”
Mike Gathagan, vice president of communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, said O’Neill’s decision to bring I’ll Have Another to Baltimore early rather than waiting until just before the Preakness had a positive effect on the ability to publicize the event.
“He’s been great to work with,” Gathagan said.