After I'll Have Another's surprising win in the Kentucky Derby at 15-1 odds, the California colt will be running in the Preakness with a bull's-eye on his back as perhaps racing's next superstar.
Trainer Doug O'Neill is hoping that I'll Have Another can replicate his 1 1-2-length victory at Pimlico next weekend with a chance to capture the Triple Crown three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes. A full field of 14 is expected for the 1 3-16-mile Preakness, a sign that not everyone finds the Derby winner all that intimidating.
"In this day and age, people aren't going to be put off at taking a shot in the Preakness," said Graham Motion, who won last year's Derby with Animal Kingdom and trains Went the Day Well, fourth in this year's Derby. "It's going to take a lot to intimidate people not to come back in the Preakness."
Went the Day Well will test I'll Have Another again. Other Derby horses being considered for a shot are Bob Baffert's duo of Bodemeister and Liaison; Creative Cause, who was fifth at Churchill Downs; Hansen, ninth in the Derby; and Optimizer, who was 11th.
Hansen's connections are expected to wait until early next week to decide.
O'Neill singled out Bodemeister and Went the Day Well as two rivals that "would be scary."
Went the Day Well was slow getting out of the gate and fell several lengths back going into the first turn in the Derby.
"With a clear trip, he could be more of a factor," O'Neill said.
Motion agreed, saying, "Every time I've run this horse he's improved."
Bodemeister set a blistering early pace in the Derby only to be caught in the final 100 yards by I'll Have Another and settled for second. Liaison was sixth. Five-time Preakness winner Baffert planned to confirm his duo's status this weekend after returning to Churchill Downs from his base in California.
"I respect Bodemeister and his connections big-time," O'Neill said. "I'd rather he didn't run, but if he runs, we have a colt that's good enough and versatile enough to stick close and not let Bodemeister have everything his own way."
Last year, Shackleford finished fourth in the Derby, then defeated Animal Kingdom by a half-length to win the Preakness.
Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli has indicated that if Bodemeister runs, he would make him the favorite over the Derby champ. O'Neill can't argue, either.
"This crop of 3-year-olds is so evenly matched," he said. "Bodemeister has probably been the most consistent. The one thing my colt has is he's 3-for-3 (this year) and he's done nothing but win. As long as he's done that, I'm OK with a little higher odds."
While Motion isn't afraid of taking on I'll Have Another again, he respects the colt.
"He hasn't done anything wrong this year," he said. "He's an impressive horse."
Possible new challengers lining up include: Canonero II Stakes winner Pretension; Cozzetti, fourth in the Arkansas Derby; Derby Trial winner Hierro; Sunland Derby runner-up Isn't He Clever, eighth in the Arkansas Derby; Teeth of the Dog; Tiger Walk, fourth in the Wood Memorial; and Zetterholm, trained by Rick Dutrow, who won the 2008 Derby and Preakness with Big Brown.
I'll Have Another is training for the Preakness at Pimlico, where he arrived two days after his Derby win in a break from tradition. In recent years, the Derby winner hasn't gotten to Baltimore until a few days before the race.
O'Neill, based in California, doesn't have any horses at Churchill, so he had no reason to keep I'll Have Another in Louisville. In another twist, I'll Have Another isn't in the stakes barn at Pimlico, which usually houses the Derby winner. O'Neill chose a nearby barn for his small traveling party.
"I like having my own quiet, serene spot," he said.
O'Neill last ran a horse in Maryland six years ago when Thor's Echo won the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash on his way to winning an Eclipse Award as the nation's top sprinter. I'll Have Another owner J. Paul Reddam's only other Preakness starter, Wilko, was 12th in 2005.
I'll Have Another's jockey, Mario Gutierrez, has never ridden at Pimlico. He plans to arrive Tuesday of Preakness week to gallop a few horses and familiarize himself with the track's tighter turns.
"All the tracks are the same, they have dirt on them and they're a circle," he said. "Hopefully everything goes right."
Only 11 horses have swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, with Affirmed the last to do so in 1978. There have been 11 Triple tries since, most recently by Big Brown in 2008. He won the first two legs, then finished last in the 1 1-2-mile Belmont.
O'Neill believes I'll Have Another's running style is versatile enough to adapt to the Triple Crown grind of three races at varying distances five weeks apart.
"He's got a tremendous first step out of the gate and he's got speed after that if you want," the trainer said. "He can be right up on the pace. If it's a hot and heavy pace he can be laying off it like he was in the Kentucky Derby.
"He's got that 'it' factor of wanting to be the first one to the wire and that you can't train. I know he's got stamina and the heart, so it's the luck of maintaining what we got right now. I don't see any reason why he can't repeat his current form."