BALTIMORE — Whether he is standing in his stall or bringing a crowd of more than 121,000 to their feet, everything about freshly minted dual classic winner I'll Have Another prompts confidence these days from those who cater to the son of Flower Alley.
When trainer Doug O'Neill arrived at Pimlico on Sunday morning and laid eyes on the colt that in three weeks will try to become just the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown, he saw no reason why the lighthearted swagger around his shed row should fade any time soon.
"Oh God, to see an empty feed tub and see him with so much energy and life in him," O'Neill said the morning after his charge captured what will go down as an epic edition of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. "It's just like a dream that keeps coming."
Though Team O'Neill still is digesting the brilliant effort that I'll Have Another put forth in running down rival Bodemeister in a second straight classic, Operation Triple Crown was already in full swing Sunday morning.
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As was the case after I'll Have Another's Kentucky Derby triumph, no time was wasted in getting the chestnut colt to his next destination. He was put on a van to New York less than 24 hours after his Preakness win to begin preparations for the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
With his triumph by a neck over Bodemeister in the Preakness, I'll Have Another becomes the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 to head to Belmont with a shot at the historic sweep.
Ever since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, 11 others have come to Belmont with history on the line, only to falter. With Bodemeister slated to get a break and point for the Grade I Haskell Invitational this summer, I'll Have Another already has one major hurdle out of his way.
"Not at all," O'Neill laughed when asked whether he was disappointed the Derby and Preakness runner-up would not be at Belmont. "With a brilliant horse like Bodemeister, the less you have to face a horse like that the better.
"We realize we'll have some really top horses waiting there for us; it won't be easy. But this is a special horse, and if he stays injury-free and healthy, I think he's got a big chance."
For as much fun as O'Neill as his crew have had during the first two legs of the Triple Crown, they also have left no stone unturned in making sure I'll Have Another has every chance at making history. That included watching tapes of past Preakness races.
The fact that they shipped to Pimlico Race Course right after the Derby and were able to get the colt acclimated to the track played no small role in his effort for the ages on Saturday, O'Neill said.
Considering Belmont's 11/2-mile oval is an animal like no other in the sport, O'Neill wants to get both his stable's star and 25-year-old jockey Mario Gutierrez as much time as possible to figure out the track known as Big Sandy.
"I think getting here and getting the horses settled was huge," O'Neill said of Pimlico. "And just having the horse handle the track as well as he did, knowing he liked the surface, was a big confidence boost for us as well.
"I think we pay attention to making sure Mario gets a chance to ride at Belmont. That is a unique oval over there. As good and as calm as Mario is, he's still going to need a couple trips around that track to get comfortable with it because it's different than anything he's seen before."
The list of potential candidates looking to halt I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid includes Grade I winners Union Rags; Dullahan; Paynter, a stablemate to Bodemeister; Optimizer; and Mark Valeski.
While the list of horses that have failed at Triple Crown attempts since 1978 includes such Hall of Famers as Spectacular Bid (1979) Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989), I'll Have Another has some key factors working in his favor.
Contrary to the belief that Belmont's marathon distance favors closers, horses with I'll Have Another's tactical ability to lay closer to the pace have proven to be best-suited to conquering the test. More than any other race, the Belmont exposes distance limitations in even the most talented horse's pedigree. To that end, I'll Have Another looks to be covered, thanks to tons of stamina influences in his maternal line.
"He's got all kind of distance on the bottom side" of his pedigree, O'Neill said. "In the Derby and yesterday, if you see him gallop out, he gallops out with energy still. He's got a great confidence about him and he's got the stride of a horse that a mile and a half won't be a problem."
After I'll Have Another reeled in Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and did so again in the final strides of the middle leg of the Triple Crown, one would think there would be some outward signs of wear and tear on his frame.
But when I'll Have Another was brought out for his morning bath Sunday, J. Paul Reddam's colt looked as if he had barely turned a hair the past few weeks, a tribute to the constitution that has made him unbeaten in four starts this season.
"Look at that eye on him," said Larry "Thumper" Jones, the equine chiropractor who routinely works on I'll Have Another. "He looks like he's ready to go again."