On a clear, crisp Maryland Friday morning, Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another made an early appearance on the main track at Pimlico, jogging a half-mile and then galloping seven furlongs under exercise rider Jonny Garcia.
As I'll Have Another headed back to the barn area a little after 6:30 a.m. (EDT), trainer Doug O'Neill gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to horse and rider.
Before going to the track, as I'll Have Another took a few turns in the walking ring, O'Neill was asked what his thoughts were as he watched the Flower Alley colt.
"Proud, so proud," said O'Neill, who will have a Preakness starter for the first time Saturday.
Owned by Reddam Racing, I'll Have Another arrived in the O'Neill barn at Hollywood Park in April 2011 after being purchased for $35,000 at Ocala where he was picked out by the Derby-winning trainer's brother, Dennis O'Neill.
"Did you think you had a Kentucky Derby winner in your grasp at purchase time?" Dennis was asked.
"Absolutely not. For the horses I buy, I hope they can win for maiden $40,000 or $50,000," he said. "The first time he breezed, I asked Doug if he thought he could win a maiden 40 or 50 and he said he was more like Stevie Wonderboy (the 2005 juvenile champion trained by O'Neill)."
Doug O'Neill was high on the colt early on.
"We always thought highly of him and he has that long stride," the trainer said, noting that Kentucky Derby dreams began to really grow after I'll Have Another's victory in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at 1 1/16 miles. "To win going two turns after a five-month layoff, I thought that maybe he may be one for the classics."
With one classic in his pocket, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown awaits Saturday, when I'll Have Another may go to the track in the morning during the 5:30-6:00 session reserved for Preakness horses.
"Usually, I gallop my horses the morning of a race back home," the Southern California-based O'Neill said. "I'll see what his energy level is in the morning and I may jog him."
The weekend got off to a banner start Thursday when the O'Neill barn sent out Ten Plush to a three-quarter length victory in her first career start for Reddam Racing.
"That was great. She's a nice filly," O'Neill said of Ten Plush, who represented his first starter at Pimlico.
Ten Plush is a Florida-bred filly out of a mare by 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet. She was ridden by I'll Have Another's jockey, Mario Gutierrez, who earlier in the card had won on his first Pimlico mount, My Name Is Ralphie, in the second.
Bodemeister came back from his gallop on the track at Pimlico Friday morning, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert deemed him ready for the Saturday's Preakness.
"The horse looks good. He's trained well," Baffert said. "It's just waiting now."
Bodemeister set a scorching pace in the Kentucky Derby and managed to hold on to finish second to I'll Have Another. The two California-based colts meet again in the Preakness -- with Bodemeister the 8-5 favorite in the morning line -- and the question to be answered in the race is how the race will unfold. Will I'll Have Another press the pace? Will Bodemeister try to run the competition into the ground in a race that is one-sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby?
"On paper, it looks like he's going to be the speed," Baffert said. "He has to break well. He has a high cruising speed and hopefully he doesn't go as fast as he did in the Derby."
At Churchill Downs in the Derby, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and Bodemeister covered the first quarter in :22 1/5 and the half-mile in :45 1/5. Smith is back aboard for the Preakness, but he doesn't have to deal with speedsters such as Hansen and Trinniberg in the Preakness.
"I think he learned a lot from the horse the last time," Baffert said. "He's a horse that if you push the button he's going to be gone. The pace is the whole key here. I've been at the Preakness and there is always some longshot that decides they want to go. I can't worry about that. If Bodemeister just runs his race then he'll be effective. That's the whole key."
The unknown factor is how the Derby horses will perform on two weeks rest.
"If the gate comes open and they feel like running, they run," Baffert said. "If they don't feel like it, they don't run."
Baffert mentioned Pioneerof the Nile, the Derby runner-up in 2009.
"I thought he would run huge and he never ran a jump," Baffert said. "They're doing great, but you're still waiting for that gate to come open to see what they're going to do.
"All I can do is get them ready, lead them up there and put the saddle on them. The horse has to do the rest and the jockey has to keep him out of trouble. That's Mike's job: keep him out of trouble and ride the race he thinks is right to him. It's a lot of pressure. It's a big arena we're playing in."
With his remarkable speed, Bodemeister has been first or second in each of his five career starts.
"'Bode,' I can't change his style too much," Baffert said. "He's a lightly raced horse. Hopefully, he doesn't go too fast. If they go with him, it's actually good, because if they chase him it's a good thing. We'll see what happens."
Baffert has won the Preakness five times from 12 starters since making his debut with Cavonnier (4th) in 1996. His quintet is composed of Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002), as well as Point Given in 2001 and Lookin at Lucky in 2010.
"My secret is that those horses were very, very good horses," he said. "They were the best horses and that's why they won. Three of them won the Kentucky Derby and two of them didn't run well in the Derby, but they bounced back really well.
"The cream always rises to the top. The Kentucky Derby winner is a very good horse and he's going to be tough to beat."