The odds were stacked against I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby Saturday. The horse was coming out of post position number 19 and it wasn’t purchased for some crazy amount of money like many Derby horses are. It didn’t matter as I’ll Have Another came from behind to become the first horse from the 19 spot to win, and did so at 15-to-1 odds.
Now it’s on to the Preakness in two weeks. It’s a shorter track, so horses that come from behind can’t wait as long to do it as they did at the Derby. No matter, says Doug O’Neil, trainer of I’ll Have Another. O’Neil says if the horse is doing well, he can adjust him to compete on any track.
Doug O’Neil joined Fox Sports Radio with Petros and Money to discuss how life has changed since the victory, how improbable it was, I’ll Have Another’s trip around the track, being a Derby-winning trainer now, how the Preakness sets up, if he bets on the horses he trains and his confidence level at this point.
How has life changed since Saturday?:
“It’s been awesome. Talking to you guys? Are you kidding me? How insane is this? When you’re in the horse-racing business and people don’t know much about you, people always ask you, ‘Have you done anything with the Kentucky Derby?’ Now, to be able to say, ‘You know what? In 2012, we won the Derby.’ It’s a sweet change.”
How improbable of a victory was it?:
“People can spend lots of money trying to chase the Derby. It is sweet to have only spent $35,000 and get there. To run from the 19 hole, you almost feel like you’re not part of the race. You’re so far outside there. But Mario Gutierrez, our jockey, did a brilliant job of saving all the ground. … We came into the Kentucky Derby off the Santa Anita Derby going in so we had pretty good credentials.”
At what point did you know the horse was in the spot you wanted?:
“You know, when they passed the grandstand the first time out, he was about six or seven back and Bodemeister, the favorite, was flying out front. He was uncontested on the lead but he was going at a real fast clip. I just felt really good about where Mario had him. … I turned to the big screen and going into the far turn they had the top five horses in order and I saw number 19 pop up in fifth. At that point, it was like, ‘Oh man, here he goes.’ At that point I felt pretty good that he had a chance.”
Did you ever see yourself as a Derby-winning trainer?:
“I’d be lying if I said that. But he’s always shown a lot of talent. When he won the Bob Lewis in February at Santa Anita, we all started thinking, ‘Hey now, we’ve got a chance to maybe do something crazy the first Saturday in May.’ But you never know. You’ve got 20 horses in the field and I bet you all 20 of us thought we had a chance.”
How does the Preakness look for I’ll Have Another?:
“It shortens up and comes back quickly. In two weeks, you need a horse to recover really quick. All signs so far, I’ll Have Another is right back to his good energy. And then the race distance itself is shorter than the Derby, so a horse like Bodemeister would have a little edge in the Preakness because of the shorter distance. But the great thing about I’ll Have Another, he’s versatile, he’s got speed if we need it, he can come from behind as we saw last Saturday. As long as he’s doing well, we can kind of adjust him to how the race is going to unfold.”
Do you bet on your own horse?:
“You know, I’ll support them at the window from time to time, but my main focus is trying to get good horses, take good care of them and then try to place them in the proper spots where they can be competitive. The gambling end, you’ll see a lot of trainers get in trouble if they fall into the gambling too much, so I try to stay clear from that a little bit if I can.”
What changes for you now?:
“I think the confidence level for me and the whole barn. When you think of the Derby, you think of the Bafferts and you think of the big-name guys. Now, to be able to tell a potential owner, ‘Come over to Team O’Neil and if we get a good horse we can win the Derby for you,’ that’s a big boost for everyone at the barn.”