Kentucky Derby

John Clay: Winning trainer loses a little sleep after Derby

Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill and daughter  Kaylin, 7, kissed the trophy, being held by O'Neill's 9-year-old son, Daniel, after I'll Have Another's victory on Saturday.
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill and daughter Kaylin, 7, kissed the trophy, being held by O'Neill's 9-year-old son, Daniel, after I'll Have Another's victory on Saturday. Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — After the winning news conference Saturday, the connections of Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another went back to the winning barn on the Churchill Downs backside and celebrated there.

Then the winning connections went to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund charity dinner at the Galt House and celebrated there. "That was incredible," said trainer Doug O'Neill.

Then the winning connections went to the Rivue restaurant on the Galt House's 25th floor, where there was dancing, or something that might have looked liked dancing, and more celebrating.

"Paul (Reddam) basically reserved the whole floor," said O'Neill of the winning owner. "I'm scared to think of what that bill was, but I think he's got the money right now."

Finally, about 1:30 or 2 a.m, the winning connections stumbled back to their rooms at the Galt House.

"It was so cool walking down the hallways and they already had the morning newspapers out," said O'Neill. "And the headline, seeing that in front of everyone's door, was "I'll Have Another." It was like, 'Whoa!' That was really an unbelievable feeling."

That feeling appeared to be carrying over Sunday morning at 8:15, what with O'Neill and his brother, bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill, doing a live segment for the Today show with Reddam and his wife, Zillah.

Doug O'Neill then went about making the official Preakness preparations. I'll Have Another is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on Monday to get an early start on preparations for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Told that no one could remember the last time a Derby winner went that early to Baltimore, O'Neill expressed surprise.

"Really?" he said. "I didn't know that."

This is all new to him, after all. Saturday was just the third race of the year for I'll Have Another, now a perfect three-for-three, winning the Bob Lewis and Santa Anita Derby previously. It was O'Neill's second Kentucky Derby. It was the first for jockey Mario Gutierrez.

So at Paul Reddam's suggestion, O'Neill and Guiterrez went to the Derby Museum on Wednesday and watched replays of old Kentucky Derbys.

"It worked out ideally," said O'Neill on Sunday morning. "Mario had talked about it seemed like all the winners kind of pulled the riders to the head of the lane and then had horse.

"I've got to watch (the Derby replay) again, but it looked like I'll Have Another, Mario kind of squeezed him a little bit with his legs, and he kind of made a move and he kind of pulled Mario to the top of the lane and he was within contention."

That's what the duo saw in those replays: You had to be in contention at the head of the lane to have a chance.

Guiterrez "had aim on the leader," said O'Neill.

The leader was Bodemeister, who turned in fractions blistering enough to cook most 3-year-old colts. Yet Bob Baffert's entry didn't give way until the last 100 yards.

"I've got to watch it again," said O'Neill, "but to go 22 and change and 45 and change (for the mile) and still run as game as he did, he ran huge."

He didn't win, however. O'Neill took that honor. The trainer said he would return to California on Sunday afternoon — he has promised to buy a hot tub for one very happy son of a Derby-winning trainer — then head to Baltimore on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Someone asked him Sunday if he had even allowed himself to think about a possible Triple Crown and what might lie ahead?

"Yeah, history," said O'Neill, still with a look of awe. "Can you believe that?"

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