BALTIMORE - I’ll Have Another may be the only horse in the field for Saturday’s 137th Preakness with a chance at the Triple Crown, but he won’t be going in as the favourite.
That designation will be carried by Bodemeister, the Bob Baffert-trained colt that finished second to I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby nearly two weeks ago. Bodemeister goes in as the morning line favourite at 8-5.
I’ll Have Another, owned by Windsor, Ont., native Paul Reddam and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, a former star at Vancouver’s Hastings Park, was next best at 5-2.
The Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill didn’t seem the least bit surprised — or the slightest bit disrespected — by this turn of events.
“Bob Baffert has won five of these,” O’Neill said matter-of-factly. “I’ve never run a horse here. I totally respect that. I’m just hoping that anyone who bets Bodemeister is regretting it Saturday night.”
Both trainers were happy with the post position their respective horses drew. Bodemeister will start from just off the middle of the start gate from the seven hole in the 11-horse field. I’ll Have Another will be two over and break from the starting gate from No. 9.
“I thought the draw was really good,” O’Neill said.
“I’m very happy with that. Being outside of the legitimate speed, most jockeys would be real happy with that. We’re OK with that.”
The concern — and it was a minor one for O’Neill — was winding up inside of Bodemeister.
“We had talked about the possibility of being inside of Bodemeister and really forcing our hand to push him early. Now it’s in Mario’s hands to still kind of push Bode, but we’ll be on the outside. I like it because if Bodemeister is absolutely flying, we don’t have to use our horse to track him.”
Baffert also liked his colt’s positioning.
“With him, anything in the middle would have been fine,” Baffert said.
“In the Preakness, you just don’t want to be stuck down on the inside, where you have to use your horse a little bit.”
In the Derby, Bodemeister was one of three speed horses, but took the lead right from the gate, only to be tracked down in the stretch by I’ll Have Another. The other two speed horses that ran in Louisville — Hansen and Trinniberg — will not be at Pimlico. Their owners opted to forego the Preakness, leaving Bodemeister carrying that speed horse role by himself.
O’Neill is well aware that is the perception, although he doesn’t necessarily agree with it.
“It’s in Mike Smith’s (Bodemeister’s jockey) hands to set the pace,” O’Neill conceded.
“For whatever reason, if he breaks slow or decides not to go, we’ll take the lead and take it from there.”
Bottom line: O’Neill is brimming with confidence regardless of the morning line, regardless of post position.
“We like anything with nine in it,” O’Neill said, referring to I’ll Take Another’s win from the 19 hole at the Derby.
“You never know, but as long as we continue to train like our horse has trained, we won’t be that far off Bodemeister. If anything, Bodemeister might be behind us early. I could see him chasing us, I really could.”
Baffert wasn’t giving anything away, but he did admit he would prefer not to see Bodemeister take it out as fast as he did in the Derby.
“I don’t want him to go that fast,” Baffert said of the early pace in the Derby. “It’s hard on a horse to go that fast, but I think that he’s the kind of horse that really surprises me. He’s got that brilliant speed, but if I didn’t see the clock, I never would have thought he ran that fast in the Derby. He has a really efficient stride. He makes it look easy. But it’s up to Mike Smith.”
And there’s Baffert’s bottom line. He’s leaving it up to Smith whether he wants to get out in front and set the pace or if he’s content to sit back and let someone else do it.
“It’s all up to Mike Smith,” Baffert said. “If I was riding him, I probably would have had a heart attack by now worrying about it.”
Worrying is the last thing on O’Neill’s mind right now. The sudden fame that comes with a win at the Kentucky Derby fits this man like a glove.
Not even a mob of reporters shoving mics and tape recorders in his face can sway this man these days.
“I couldn’t pay people $100 to hang around me a couple of weeks ago,” O’Neill said.
“This is all very cool.”
I'LL HAVE ANOTHER HAS HOOF UP ON COMPETITION?
BALTIMORE — First in doesn’t necessarily mean first to the finish, but Doug O’Neill doesn’t see why it can’t.
The trainer of I’ll Have Another made the decision to ship his Kentucky Derby-winning horse north to Maryland for the Preakness the day after the Derby ended.
In the past 12 years, the earliest a Derby winner has made his way to Pimlico was in 2001, when Monarchos arrived in Baltimore four days after the Derby.
The norm is about three days before the race, which is the course Bob Baffert chose for morning line favourite Bodemeister.
I’ll Have Another has been in the stakes barn here at Pimlico for 10 days already and, as far as O’Neill is concerned, it was the right decision to ship him early.
“I think the horse has settled in beautifully,” he said. “Now when you see other horses kind of rush in, I feel like we have an edge by being so settled and having been here.”
All of which begs the question: Why don’t more trainers do it?
“It really doesn’t make any sense,” O’Neill said, “but I haven’t won one of these things, so maybe they know something I don’t. But the track has been great, the management has been great.
“As good as our horse is mentally, I think it’s still great for them to be at a certain location for a while before they compete, I really do.”
Baffert was asked if he was at all concerned his presumed stiffest competition might have got a leg up on him using this strategy.
“Well, Bodemeister has shipped well wherever he has gone,” Baffert said. “He’s a pretty laid-back horse. You never know, but I guess I can always use that as an excuse."
1 Tiger Walk
2 Teeth of the Dog
5 Went the Day Well
6 Creative Cause
8 Daddy Nose Best
9 I’ll Have Another