As Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another vanned out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport with a police escort Monday afternoon, he was greeted by local horse fans trying to make him feel instantly at home.
"People were lined up and chanting, 'I'd love another,'" said assistant trainer Jack Sisterson, who accompanied the horse on a flight from Louisville, Ky. "His ears are pricked and he's bobbing his head, 'Yeah, that's me!'"
At Pimlico Race Course, cameras from local television stations were lined up along print media to record the arrival of the gorgeous, Doug O'Neill-trained chestnut as he came off the trailer and pranced to his stall.
In a bit of a surprise, I'll Have Another did not take a right turn to the traditional stakes barn where nearly every Derby winner settles in to Stall 40 prior to the Preakness. Instead, he turned left into the barn that usually houses the stakes horses on the Preakness undercard.
It was just one more move that sets the son of Flower Alley apart.
On Saturday he surprised Bodemeister by making up five tough lengths down the Churchill Downs front stretch to best the favorite on a day when Bodemeister ran his own great race. I'll Have Another, a 15-1 long-shot, won by 1 1/2-lengths.
In doing so, he became the first horse to win from the No. 19 post and the first Santa Anita Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby since 1989's Sunday Silence.
His Monday arrival at Pimlico is believed to have made him the first Derby winner to come in two weeks before the race since Monarcos arrived on Wednesday after the 2001 Derby.
And now his trainer is trying to position him to win the Preakness and make a run at the ever-elusive Triple Crown.
"The trainer called today and said he didn't want to be in the Preakness Stakes barn," said Charlie Hall, stall manager at Pimlico, Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center. "He wanted [the horse] to stay away from the hustle and bustle. He also asked for wood shavings instead of straw. Aside from the stall, he didn't ask for anything unusual."
As I'll Have Another, settled into his freshly bedded stall along with his track pony Lava Man and four other O'Neill-trained horses, Sisterson said there were a couple reasons the team decided to bring the horse here nearly two full weeks before the race.
"We discussed a few plans and decided the more time he has to adjust and get used to the [unfamiliar] surface, the better for him," Sisterson said. "You know we went in a week early at Churchill and that worked well, and being here two weeks is not going to hurt him."
As for the deviation from the Preakness Stakes barn to the one he's in, Sisterson said compared it to a rock star staying somewhere away from the fans and media.
"I suppose it's like a human," he said. "You want to try to get your rest. If you've got 50 million people outside your bedroom window snapping your picture every single day, you probably wouldn't get your sleep, would you? It's important to get him out of the way, where he can relax and be himself. It's better for the horse."
NOTES: O'Neill will throw out the first pitch at the Orioles' home game against the New York Yankees on Tuesday ... Maryland-based trainer Michael Matz said Monday it is unlikely Union Rags, the Derby's seventh-place finisher who is trained at Fair Hill, will run in the Preakness. Instead, Matz is considering bringing Teeth of the Dog, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial. ... Dullahan, who finished third, was not expected to run in the second-leg of the Triple Crown but trainer Dale Romans is reconsidering. Romans said he will see how the horse trains over the next week or so before making a decision. ... Grade II Jerome Stakes winner The Lumber Guy, who was thought to be among the fresh-legs entries, will not be coming.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun