As preparations begin on Old Hilltop for the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes, the star of the field already has a confirmed arrival date.
Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another will show up Monday, much earlier than originally expected — and before most horses in recent years have begun their acclimation to Pimlico.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, fresh off a long night of celebrating and on about three hours of sleep, said Sunday morning at Churchill Downs that he and the colt's connections had reversed their original decision to keep I'll Have Another at Churchill Downs this week.
The colt should reach Baltimore via plane by 5 p.m. I'll Have Another is one of eight Derby horses listed on the ever-evolving Preakness possibles list as of Sunday afternoon.
Most Derby champions over the past two decades have stayed in their Churchill stalls for at least a week after the race (a practice made popular by legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas).
Animal Kingdom (2011) and Barbaro (2006) left early but returned to their usual home, the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton. Monarchos showed up Wednesday after winning in 2001, as did Afleet Alex, who finished third in 2005 but won the Preakness and Belmont.
Horses pointed at the Preakness often don't arrive until the Tuesday before the race. They are not required to be on the premises until 8 a.m the day of the race.
"The more we thought about it, the more we thought getting him over there and getting settled in might be a good idea," said O'Neill, the California-based trainer who has been to Pimlico but raced only a few horses there.
Second-place Derby finisher Bodemeister — whose blistering dash was still the talk of the track Sunday — came out of the race well. Trainer Bob Baffert, a five-time winner at Preakness, was non-commital as to whether he'd bring Bodemeister or Liason, the 50-1 shot who finished sixth at the Derby, or a fresh horse, Paynter, to Baltimore.
"I'm not saying nothing," he said. "You could stick toothpicks up my fingernails and I wouldn't."
It appears Dale Romans, whose colt Shackleford beat Animal Kingdom at Preakness last year, will not run third-place finisher Dullahan at Preakness.
"I'd be very surprised if we went to the Preakness," owner Jerry Crawford said. "It's shorter at 1 3/16 miles, has sharper turns, and it would be three races in five weeks for Dullahan. The Belmont seems more likely."
But Romans could enter Cozzetti, who finished third in the Grade II Tampa Derby this year.
As of Sunday morning, Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom, had not made a decision on whether to take this year's fourth-place finisher, Went the Day Well, to the premier race in the state where he trains. He wanted to speak with owner Barry Irwin of Team Valor International before making a decision.
But Motion sounded hopeful, calling the horse a "definite possibility." Cautious in his public pronouncements about Went the Day Well in the week leading to the Derby, Motion lamented a poor trip that stalled a worthy horse.
A poor start, Motion said, "cost him five, six lengths. Johnny was seven, eight lengths back further than he wanted to be going into that first turn. That made all the difference.
"I think he could have won. I really do believe he could have won."
Motion said he was "deflated," a strong term for the quiet but confident trainer.
"We could have made history." he said. "You don't get many chances to do that. But look, I'm not taking anything away from the winner or anything else. We had the great trip last year; he had the super trip this year. That's what it's all about."
Whether I'll Have Another can succeed where Animal Kingdom couldn't and win the second leg of the Triple Crown is already being debated.
O'Neill thinks his horse is smart and versatile enough to do it.
"He's got so much stamina," he said. "So I don't think the distance really matters. If there is a really strong pace, he can sit off like [Saturday]. If there is not much pace, he can be up on the lead. He is just a special horse, obviously. He has a chance to do something that hasn't been done in a long time."
Baffert, who has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown three times, believes health will be the key, but added that the Preakness is usually won by the best horse.
Creative Cause, Hansen and Optimizer (trained by Lukas) are also possibilities to go from the Derby to the Preakness.
There will be fresh legs in the race, though. Possible new shooters include Pretension and Brimstone Island, the winner and runner-up, respectively, from the Canonero II Stakes Saturday at Pimlico; the top two finishers in the Grade III Derby Trial, Hierro and Paynter; Grade II Jerome Stakes winner The Lumber Guy and Sagamore Farm's Tiger Walk.
The Preakness is limited to 14 starters but for the first time will have two available spots for also-eligibles. Seventeen of the past 20 years have seen double-digit starters.
O'Neill planned to return to California and probably will not arrive in town to train I'll Have Another until the middle of the week. The colt will likely walk the shedrow for at least two days, and build to a gallop.
Prior to the Derby, he promised his children a hot tub if I'll Have Another won.
"Can't believe I've gotta go hot tub shopping," he said.
Baffert flew back to California, too, and plans to return to Louisville to evaluate his horses over the weekend. Bodemeister would likely be the morning line favorite if he entered the Preakness.
"I can't believe that horse finished second," Motion said of Bodemeister. "It's extraordinary, really. My guess would be it'd be tough to come back and run in the Preakness after running that kind of race [Saturday]."
Michael Matz, who also trains at Fair Hill, had not decided whether he'd bring Union Rags to Pimlico. The second choice on the morning line once again had a bad trip and failed to challenge, finishing seventh thanks to a late rally past fading speed.
"My first inclination would be no," he said, but the decision won't be final until later this week.
When asked what happened to his horse, Matz, clearly distressed, was blunt.
"A lot. Your guess is as good as mine," he said. "[Jockey]Julien [Leparoux] just said he got slammed out of the gate. Didn't break fast. He had trouble everywhere around.
"I don't mind getting beat, if you get to run."
It would be surprising if Leparoux, who also had trouble giving Union Rags a chance in the Florida Derby, kept the mount.
Notes: Rosie Napravnik, the first woman ever to win the Kentucky Oaks, will return to Maryland for Preakness weekend. She began her career at the state's tracks after leaving Hereford High after her junior year. Her race schedule has not been finalized, but she'll be part of the Female Jockey Challenge on Black-Eyed Susan Day. ... Hamilton Smith's first Triple Crown horse, Done Talking, walked the shedrow Sunday morning, then vanned back to Laurel.