LOUISVILLE, Ky.—As preparations begin on Old Hilltop for the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes, the star of the field already has a confirmed arrival date.
Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another will show up Monday, much earlier than originally expected — and before most horses in recent years have begun their acclimation to Pimlico.
Trainer Doug O’Neill, fresh off a long night of celebrating and on about three hours of sleep, said Sunday morning at Churchill Downs that he and the colt’s connections had reversed their original decision to keep I’ll Have Another at Churchill Downs this week.
The colt should reach Baltimore via plane by 5 p.m. I’ll Have Another is one of eight Derby horses listed on the ever-evolving Preakness possibles list as of Sunday afternoon.
Most Derby champions over the past two decades have stayed in their Churchill stalls for at least a week after the race (a practice made popular by legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas).
Animal Kingdom (2011) and Barbaro (2006) left early but returned to their usual home, the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton. Monarchos showed up Wednesday after winning in 2001, as did Afleet Alex, who finished third in 2005 but won the Preakness and Belmont.
Horses pointed at the Preakness often don’t arrive until the Tuesday before the race. They are not required to be on the premises until 8 a.m the day of the race.
“The more we thought about it, the more we thought getting him over there and getting settled in might be a good idea,” said O’Neill, the California-based trainer who has been to Pimlico but raced only a few horses there.
Second-place Derby finisher Bodemeister — whose blistering dash was still the talk of the track Sunday — came out of the race well. Trainer Bob Baffert, a five-time winner at Preakness, was non-commital as to whether he’d bring Bodemeister or Liason, the 50-1 shot who finished sixth at the Derby, or a fresh horse, Paynter, to Baltimore.
“I’m not saying nothing,” he said. “You could stick toothpicks up my fingernails and I wouldn’t.”
It appears Dale Romans, whose colt Shackleford beat Animal Kingdom at Preakness last year, will not run third-place finisher Dullahan at Preakness.
“I’d be very surprised if we went to the Preakness,” owner Jerry Crawford said. “It’s shorter at 1 3/16 miles, has sharper turns, and it would be three races in five weeks for Dullahan. The Belmont seems more likely.”
But Romans could enter Cozzetti, who finished third in the Grade II Tampa Derby this year.
As of Sunday morning, Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom, had not made a decision on whether to take this year’s fourth-place finisher, Went the Day Well, to the premier race in the state where he trains. He wanted to speak with owner Barry Irwin of Team Valor International before making a decision.
But Motion sounded hopeful, calling the horse a “definite possibility.” Cautious in his public pronouncements about Went the Day Well in the week leading to the Derby, Motion lamented a poor trip that stalled a worthy horse.
A poor start, Motion said, “cost him five, six lengths. Johnny was seven, eight lengths back further than he wanted to be going into that first turn. That made all the difference.
“I think he could have won. I really do believe he could have won.”
Motion said he was “deflated,” a strong term for the quiet but confident trainer.
“We could have made history.” he said. “You don’t get many chances to do that. But look, I’m not taking anything away from the winner or anything else. We had the great trip last year; he had the super trip this year. That’s what it’s all about.”