BALTIMORE — No one is loving the run-up to today'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 pitch at an Orioles game and hammering away at Maryland crabs.
"It's been a blast. We've done some cool things," O'Neill said Friday morning. "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 Bodemeister in the final 100 yards to win the Derby by 1½ lengths two weeks ago.
"He looks fantastic; great energy," O'Neill said. "He's maintained his beautiful, long stride."
O'Neill isn't even bothered that I'll Have Another is the second choice behind Bodemeister. 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," O'Neill said earlier this week. "I just hope anyone who bets Bodemeister is regretting it Saturday night."
Baffert said Friday that his colt is in great shape but the Derby winner is the horse to beat.
"He's a good horse. He's won all three of his races this year against a strong group of California horses," Baffert said of I'll Have Another. "I come here hoping I can turn the tables this time and get it done."
The Preakness is a sixteenth-of-a-mile shorter than the Derby, about equal the distance to the wire in the Derby where Bodemeister lost his lead.
"He just has to run that Derby race back," Bodemeister's jockey, Mike Smith, said.
The second leg of the Triple Crown could turn into a two-horse race with Bodemeister breaking for the lead and I'll Have Another trying to stay close until jockey Mario Gutierrez makes 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 Smith slows things down, O'Neill says he has no problem with I'll Have Another setting the pace.
That's not to say there aren't horses capable of surprising.
Creative Cause made a move on the final turn before finishing fifth at the Derby. But he beat I'll Have Another at August's Best Pal Stakes and Bodemeister at March's San Felipe Stakes. Trainer Mike Harrington said he hopes for a fast start.
"It would be nice if somebody would soften up Bodemeister," he said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen."
Went the Day Well, trained and ridden by the team that won last year's Derby with Animal Kingdom, made up 7½ lengths in the final 220 yards to finish fourth in the Derby.
"My horse is very adaptable," trainer Graham Motion said. "If nobody goes with the speed horse (Bodemeister), he's not going to be too far off the pace, probably."