BALTIMORE (AP) — The last time trainer Doug O’Neill brought a Kentucky Derby winner to Baltimore he did much more than merely prepare I’ll Have Another for the Preakness.
O’Neill was a guest at the Baltimore Ravens rookie camp, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Orioles game and capped the visit with a victory in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“Baltimore is just a great city,” O’Neill said Thursday. “We got to experience so many cool things. It’s just amazing the people you get to meet because of a great race horse.”
Now, as he readies Nyquist for the Preakness, O’Neill looks to complete another memorable visit to Pimlico Race Course.
Wearing a jacket obtained at the Kentucky Derby this month and a hat announcing the 141st Preakness on May 21, O’Neill spoke after tending to his undefeated Kentucky Derby winner.
“Every race, you pinch yourself and realize how privileged you are to be around and to be part of such a great horse,” O’Neill said.
Besides his voice, the only sounds within earshot were birds chirping and water splashing off a horse being given a bath outside the Stakes Barn.
That is exactly how O’Neill likes it. He brought I’ll Have Another to Baltimore soon after the Kentucky Derby and well before the other contenders arrived. The strategy paid off, and O’Neill sees no reason to do anything differently.
“This is great. We love being early to settle in and have the track to ourselves, pretty much it seems like,” O’Neill said. “Not having a lot of traffic, you can kind of pick your own lane.”
About the only new thing this time is that O’Neill has a different horse in Nyquist, who won the Derby by 1 1/4 lengths over Exaggerator to improve to 8-0.
“To me, if he was a human — and he feels like a human to me — he’s just a well-dressed, go to bed early, in the gym all day kind of horse,” O’Neill said. “He sleeps, he rests a lot in his stall, gives great energy on the track.
“I’ll Have Another was more kind of a bulldog, tough horse. Great horse. But this guy’s a little bit more laid back. The 2-year-old campaign Nyquist had, being 5 for 5, being a champion 2-year-old, and to be able carry that and grow and mature as a 3-year-old is really phenomenal.”
The plan over the next 10 days is to make life easy for Nyquist.
“You just don’t want to do too much,” O’Neill said. “He did a lot to do what he did to win the Derby. As we go on here, we’ll kind of feed off his energy and his appetite and how he’s doing overall. … He hasn’t missed a note since he’s been here, so very happy with that.”
Away from the track, O’Neill intends to enjoy the sights and sounds of Charm City all over again.
“The great thing is we’ve got the same team,” he said. “We tend to go out as a family nightly. We’re going to enjoy the town as much as we can.”