Trainer Doug O'Neill ready to try for Triple Crown

awincze@herald-leader.comMay 6, 2012 

  • The 136th Preakness

    At Pimlico Race Course
    When:
    May 19

LOUISVILLE — One drawback — if you can call it such — about saddling a Kentucky Derby winner is having to look ahead to the next leg of the Triple Crown before the full impact of the first can sink in.

It is an issue, however, that trainer Doug O'Neill was happy to have on his shoulders Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after I'll Have Another won the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.

A sleep-deprived but still beaming O'Neill couldn't stop gushing about the enormity of what the chestnut son of Flower Alley had pulled off in running down Bodemeister in deep stretch to claim the roses by 11/2 lengths.

With his first classic win under his belt, O'Neill won't waste any time plotting I'll Have Another's next target. He plans to ship the colt to Baltimore on Monday afternoon to start preparing for the Preakness Stakes on May 19.

"He looks great, his legs are ice cold, he's jogging sound, he ate up everything," O'Neill said at Churchill Downs after getting only about three hours sleep. "The more we thought about it the more we thought getting over there (to Pimlico Race Course) and getting him settled in probably wouldn't be a bad idea.

"It gives me goose bumps just thinking about (a possibility of a Triple Crown). I think this colt is the kind of colt who can maintain his form and keep it going."

O'Neill, who said he hadn't watched a replay of the race, credited poise and talent on a couple of fronts as to why I'll Have Another was able to get a dream trip and collar a possible freak in Bodemeister.

Unlike some of O'Neill's past Derby contenders, I'll Have Another never turned a hair during the week or in the paddock.

"He's got such a beautiful mind," O'Neill said of I'll Have Another. "The one other time we were here, we brought two horses (Great Hunter and Liquidity in 2007) and they really came unglued with all the people and the excitement. I just had a real good feeling this colt could handle that."

And despite riding in his first Kentucky Derby, 25-year-old jockey Mario Gutierrez delivered a performance as masterful as any in recent years.

"I think jockeys can ride in the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby a lot and if they're anxious, they're just anxious," O'Neill said. "This kid is just an ice-veined, cool, calm kid. He is very confident but humble. I can't even tell you how proud I am of him."

Though kudos for I'll Have Another are deserved, Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister is already being hailed for delivering one of the best non-winning efforts the Kentucky Derby has seen.

The son of Empire Maker, making just his fifth career start, set wicked fractions of :22.32 and :45.39 on the front end and still managed to draw away from the field by several lengths in the lane before being caught late. The bay colt appeared in good order Sunday, but trainer Bob Baffert said he would likely hold off until next Monday before making a decision on whether to go to the Preakness.

"When he got back to the barn he wasn't as tired as I thought he would be for as hard as he ran," Baffert said. "The speed was pretty insane but he kept going and showed he's a pretty brilliant horse. It was a gallant effort, I was more probably in awe of his performance than anything else. Usually I'm upset when I run second. And yesterday I wasn't upset."

Jerry Crawford, managing partner of Donegal Racing, said the partnership's late-running, third-place finisher Dullahan checked out clean but that he was leaning against running the son of Even the Score back in two weeks.

"(Trainer) Dale Romans and I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk yet," Crawford said. "We can't say for certain what our future plans might be but ... when the discussions start, I'll be leaning against going to Maryland. It it would be his third race in five weeks and it would be going to a track where the race is a sixteenth of a mile shorter with sharper, more speed favoring turns. I think those are three negatives.

"I wouldn't rule it out but I would lean against it at this point. But I will go to my grave believing we had the best horse yesterday."

Fourth-place finisher Went the Day Well is another who could turn up in Baltimore. The son of Proud Citizen had a decidedly troubled trip, having to check up a couple of times before he even reached the backside, but closed willingly under jockey John Velazquez, just missing third.

"I think another jump there and he finishes second," said trainer Graham Motion, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. "Johnny felt genuinely that he could have won the race with a good trip. He just so much further back in the beginning than he wanted to be. I would think (Baltimore) is a possibility."

Fifth-place finisher Creative Cause also came out of the Kentucky Derby with no ill effects and is considered likely for a Preakness run.

Trainer Michael Matz might have been among the most visibly disappointed people on the Churchill backstretch Sunday as he grazed Union Rags, his Grade I winner who finished a disappointing seventh. After breaking a step slowly, Union Rags was bumped and squeezed back to 18th in the 20-horse field before encountering traffic on the far turn.

"I mean, it was lost right there at the start," Matz said. "We thought he'd be third or fourth passing the finish line for the first time and when you're 18th, you've got no shot. It's unfortunate, he never got a chance to run. It's very disappointing because he only gets this one chance."

Matz said Union Rags is unlikely to head to the Preakness but left the door open slightly for a change of heart in the coming days,

"No, not at this point anyway," Matz said of a trip to Baltimore. "Maybe tomorrow I'll change my mind. But not at this point. Right now I would probably say we would wait and go to the Belmont Stakes (on June 9)."

Trainer Todd Pletcher said both El Padrino, who finished 13th, and Gemologist, 16th, are also unlikely for the Preakness. However, juvenile champion Hansen could be among the returning cast after fading to ninth on Saturday.

"We'll try the Preakness and give it one more shot," co-owner Dr. Kendall Hansen said of his colt.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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