BALTIMORE - No one is loving the run-up to Saturday’s Preakness more than Doug O’Neill.
The trainer of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another has spent nearly two weeks in Baltimore, hanging with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, throwing out the first ball at an Orioles game, and hammering away at Maryland crabs for the first time.
He also huddled with Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte about racing strategy, held daily news briefings at the stakes barn, and was forthcoming when asked about his history of violations for giving his horses improper drugs.
Through it all, O’Neill and his crew are enjoying the moment in their own California freewheeling style.
“It’s been a blast. Incredible. We’ve taken advantage of it, and done some cool things,’’ O’Neill said Friday morning. “They just really rolled out the red carpet for us. Obviously, it’s a lot of fun when your horse is doing as good as he is.’’
I’ll Have Another has been doing just fine since catching the speedy Bodemeister in the final 100 yards to win the Derby by 1 1/2 lengths two weeks ago.
“He looks fantastic. Great energy,’’ O’Neill said. “He’s maintained his beautiful, long stride. We’re just very happy with each day that goes by.’’
Life can become a whole lot happier for O’Neill if I’ll Have Another wins the Preakness. A victory over 8-5 morning-line favorite Bodemeister and nine other rivals would set up a Triple Crown attempt three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes.
It’s been 34 years since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont and became the 11th Triple Crown champion. Since then, 11 horses have won the first two legs only to come up short in the Belmont. The most recent try came in 2008, when Big Brown was pulled up around the turn for home and finished last.
O’Neill isn’t even bothered that I’ll Have Another is the 5-2 second choice behind the horse he defeated. He noted this is his first Preakness while Bodemeister’s trainer, Bob Baffert, has won the race five times in 11 tries.
“I totally respect that. I just hope anyone who bets Bodemeister is regretting it Saturday night,’’ O’Neill said earlier in the week.
The second leg of the Triple Crown could turn into a two-horse race, with Bodemeister breaking for the lead from the No. 7 post, and I’ll Have Another - in the No. 9 gate - trying to stay close until jockey Mario Gutierrez determines when to make his move.
If Bodemeister tries to open a big lead early, O’Neill says his colt will be closer to the front than in the Derby. If Mike Smith, Bodemeister’s jockey, tries to slow things down, O’Neill says he has no problem with I’ll Have Another setting the pace.
The forecast for Saturday calls for temperatures in the low 80s, with a slight chance of rain. Preakness post time is set for 6:18 p.m. EDT.
Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux won’t ride in the Preakness after failing a Breathalyzer test in New York.
Desormeaux, a two-time Preakness winner, was removed as the rider of 15-1 long shot Tiger Walk by owner Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm and trainer Ignacio Correas, and replaced by Ramon Dominguez.
Desormeaux, 42, failed the test at Belmont Park, and was taken off all three of his scheduled mounts. He has not been suspended, but the New York State Racing and Wagering Board is investigating.
According to a rule in New York, every jockey named to ride is required to undergo a test for alcohol consumption. Desormeaux also failed a Breathalyzer test at Woodbine in July 2010 and was removed from his mount.
In Lingerie charged to victory in the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico, holding off Disposablepleasure for her third win in four career races. Wildcat’s Smile was third.
With John Velazquez aboard, In Lingerie finished the 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.07.
Also in Baltimore, Alternation and jockey Luis Quinonez held off hard-charging Nehro to win the $300,000 Pimlico Special, his fourth straight victory. Endorsement led for much of the 1 3/16 miles but finished third.