I'll Have Another's connections loaded their Preakness Stakes winner onto a van Sunday morning at Pimlico Race Course to begin their journey to Belmont Park in their continuing quest to sweep racing's Triple Crown.
In front of a record crowd of 121,309, Reddam Racing's chestnut colt edged Bodemeister by a neck in the 137th Preakness Saturday afternoon to become the first horse since Big Brown in 2008 to win the first two legs of the series. He will try to become the 12th horse to capture American racing's most treasured prize -- and the first since Affirmed in 1978 -- in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Trainer Doug O'Neill said the Flower Alley colt and his team are ready for the challenge.
"My dreams always ended with winning the Kentucky Derby," he said. "They never were followed up with winning the Preakness and going to the Belmont. That's a new dream now I'm waiting to pull off."
O'Neill said that I'll Have Another came out of the race well and was happy with his appearance when he arrived at the barn at 6 a.m. (EDT) Sunday morning.
"He looked great," O'Neill said. "He had licked his feed tub. Once we cleaned the poultice off, his legs were ice cold. He had good energy."
I'll Have Another was loaded onto a van at 9:05 a.m. for the journey to Belmont Park.
The thrilling Preakness victory pushed I'll Have Another's record to four-for-four this season. He returned from a five-month layoff due to sore shins with a win in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on February 4. On April 7, he added the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby to his resume before winning the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
O'Neill said the colt is well-suited to handle the demanding 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, the longest of the three races and called "The Test of the Champion."
"He's got the mind," O'Neill asserted. "You've seen the way he's handled the attention in Kentucky and here in Baltimore. He's got a great confidence about him and he's got the stride of a horse that a mile and a half won't be a problem. He's got the pedigree; so much stamina on the female side.
"And he's lightly raced. After winning the Bob Lewis it enabled us to give him plenty of time before his next start. He's still a fresh, happy, thriving horse that just seems to be getting better and better."
Meanwhile, O'Neill is prepared for the attention and demands on his time that will come his way between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
"Bring it on," he said. "We're ready."
O'Neill spent a few hours at the post-race party in the barn area hosted by the Maryland Jockey Club, but ended his celebrating around 10 p.m.
"Lynette and I and the kids ended up going back to the hotel and getting room service," he said. "And the kids were doing a lot of gymnastics moves off the bed. It was kind of a mellow evening once we got back into the hotel.
"Here it was just a fun house party. We kept saying 'I hope mom and dad don't show up. We're all going to be in trouble.' It's something I had never experienced before in my life, the amount of enthusiasm and positivity and love for horse racing. It was a dream come true for anyone involved in the business."
Assistant trainer Jack Sisterson and several members of O'Neill's staff went with the colt to Belmont Park. O'Neill and his family were scheduled to fly home to California on owner J. Paul Reddam's private jet. After checking on his horses at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, O'Neill said he would probably travel to New York in about a week.
In all likelihood, O'Neill said, he won't make any changes in I'll Have Another's training program during the three weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes.
"We'll have to play that by ear," he said. "It depends on the weather and all that stuff, but we'll maintain the same type of exercise that he's had. There's the old line about you can't take a sprinter and train him two miles and make a router out of him and you can't take a router and work them three-eighths every week and make a sprinter out of him.
"If we've got a true route horse, which we do, he's going to maintain his fitness and his exercise. If they can go a mile and a half they will. And he will."
While the Derby and Preakness had similar storylines with I'll Have Another catching and passing Bodemeister near the wire, O'Neill said his personal emotions watching the stretch runs were not the same.
"Winning the Derby was an out-of-body experience. It was like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe it.'" he said. "The Preakness, the expectations were obviously a lot higher. It was almost like, 'C'mon boy, C'mon.'"
O'Neill acknowledged that there were moments in the duel through the stretch that it looked like I'll Have Another might not overtake Bodemeister.
"He was running such a brilliant race and even if he had run second he would have run brilliantly," O'Neill said. "You don't want to run second when you run that good, and I'm glad he didn't."