Trainer Doug O'Neill said Wednesday that a horse will win the elusive Triple Crown again and that I'll Have Another might be the right horse in the right situation to complete the sweep.
I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby, finishing 1 1/2 lengths in front of Bodemeister, and is being prepared for Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. The 11th and last horse to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes was Affirmed in 1978.
Meeting with a large media contingent on Wednesday morning, O'Neill said he liked the way the scenario has played out with the Flower Alley colt. I'll Have Another ran three times as a two-year-old in 2011, suffered a shin injury in the Grade 1 Hopeful on September 5 and didn't race again until February 4 in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. O'Neill waited another two months before starting him in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, which he won with a gutty performance that sent him to the Kentucky Derby.
The Triple Crown is a demanding test with three races run over three different tracks at different distances in a span of five weeks.
"If we hadn't won the Bob Lewis, our horse wouldn't be as fresh as he is right now," O'Neill said. "He ran so huge in the Bob Lewis that we were able to give him nine weeks between that second start.
"I think we're really seeing the fruits of that right now. He's only had three starts. He's still fresh-legged. If anything, he's thriving right now. Like every other sport, you've got to stay injury-free. If he stays injury-free and healthy, I think he's the type of horse that could do it."
I'll Have Another catches Bodemeister down the stretch again to move 1 win from the Triple Crown.
"He looks fantastic; great energy," O'Neill said. "He's maintained his beautiful, long stride. We're just very happy with each day that goes by."
I'll Have Another had spent a quiet week at Pimlico after his Kentucky Derby victory, and O'Neill said he has adjusted easily to the increased level of activity on the track's grounds this week.
In the Kentucky Derby, I'll Have Another was able to sit off the fast early pace set by Bodemeister and make his winning move in the stretch. With Derby runners Trinniberg and Hansen passing the Preakness, Bodemeister looks to be the lone speed in the 11-horse field and O'Neill said he and jockey Mario Gutierrez will have to change tactics. O'Neill talked about the strategy for the Preakness with retired Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte, who visited Pimlico over the weekend. Turcotte rode two Preakness winners, Tom Rolfe in 1965 and Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1973.
"He just said you want to make sure that you don't get too far back, especially around the far turn here -- the track takes a little bit of an uphill turn," O'Neill said. "And he said that a lot of times you'll get separation and by the eighth pole the track kind of pitches a little downhill and it's hard to make up a lot of ground in the last eighth. It's almost like you've got to treat the eighth pole as the wire."
O'Neill said his colt can deal with a different approach in the Preakness.
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O'Neill nodded at a question about whether Bodemeister, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was likely to go off as the favorite in the Preakness.
"The little bit I know of this track, with his style he'll be there at the eighth pole," O'Neill said. "With his brilliant speed and his talent, I could see why people would (make him the betting favorite). And Bob has won five Preaknesses.
"I think we'll be OK and I think we have a horse that is versatile enough to give 'Bode' some heat early, ideally settle a little bit and then go after him again late."
O'Neill said that he likes what he sees on the "sheets," which analyze how horses performed in each race and indicate how they may run in their next start.
"I think we've got a good pattern going," O'Neill said. "We ran big off the layoff in the Bob Lewis. "We regressed a little winning the Santa Anita Derby and then we matched our number of the Bob Lewis in the Kentucky Derby. Usually, those horses move forward. Hopefully, the numbers are right here.
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