Doug O'Neill took a seat under a small awning, in front of cameras and reporters Wednesday morning. After a week and a half of passing time chatting with the few stragglers who came by his barn, it was time for the Kentucky Derby winning trainer to face the horde in town for Saturday's Preakness.
He took questions on his record – he's had a history of horses breaking down, and has been charged four times with "milkshaking" a horse – and was asked again about how his colt, I'll Have Another, will do this time around against Bodemeister, the runner-up at Derby.
O'Neill, as he has done since arriving in Baltimore two days after the Derby, swore his innocence.
"We play by the rules," he said, adding that he is "vigorously fighting previous allegations.
"We run pure horses."
He did say that, earlier in his career, he ran horses who may not have been prepared to run because he felt pressure to help fill fields.
While admitting that the scrutiny he's faced has been a distraction – O'Neill does this sort of thing, telling the truth where others in sports would rely on cliches; he did the unthinkable and let on that he and his crew have already talked about Belmont and the final leg of the Triple Crown – he said that it's not completely new.
"I'm sort of used to all the highs and lows," he said, "all the daggers thrown at you when you have some luck and win a big race."
I'll Have Another did train Wednesday morning, and continues to look ready. There's much more activity at Pimlico now, but the colt deals with it well and has looked strong. A nine-week layoff between his first and second races this year – both first-place finishes, in the Robert Lewis and Santa Anita Derby – has him peaking now, O'Neill said.
"I guess it'd be like being part of LeBron James' family," he said when asked about the experience of trainingI'll Have Another. "Watching him run around out there, it's just like, 'Holy mackerel.'"
O'Neill continued to praise Bodemeister, and said that I'll Have Another will likely need to show more early speed in the Preakness. None of the other horses entered will be fast enough to push the pace, so O'Neill anticipates I'll Have Another front-running early, resting mid-race and chasing down Bodemeister down the stretch.
Because of the race plan, O'Neill said, I'll Have Another's post position won't be that important. If anything, O'Neill is most concerned with having his colt stand in the gate for the shortest time possible.
The post position draw is at 6 p.m. tonight. It appears 11 horses will be entered; Guyana Star Dweej withdrew Wednesday due to injury.
As the pace of questions slowed, O'Neill reflected on the hospitality he's been shown in Baltimore. He threw out the first pitch at the Orioles game – it would have plunked a right-handed batter in the noggin – on Tuesday night after sprinting through the streets. Traffic had forced the group to arrive a bit late.
O'Neill reflected on everyone's favorite mascot, Kegasus, the half man, half horse who rules over the Preakness infield.
"Just when you think you're a little goofy," he said, "you see Kegasus and think, 'I'm all right. Everything is OK.'"