The colorful and controversial trainer was returning to his home base in California, and making plans for the trip to New York in the next week or so. I'll Have Another, meanwhile, was loaded onto a horse van at Pimlico and arrived at Belmont Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. O'Neill's assistant, Jack Sisterson, will oversee the chestnut colt until O'Neill and the rest of his team arrive.
The trainer took time to soak in the moment before leaving Baltimore, though, and to contemplate the pressure-packed days that await leading to the first Triple Crown attempt since 2008. It will be the 12th Triple try since 1978, when Affirmed won thoroughbred racing's most elusive prize.
"It hasn't completely sunk in yet," O'Neill said. "The party out here at the barn after the race was like wow! I've never seen anything like that everyone so excited about horse racing and I'll Have Another being 2-for-2. I definitely feel the energy and buzz in the air."
He hasn't seen anything yet.
The Triple Crown quest brought some tantalizingly close calls since Affirmed turned back Alydar in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont 34 years ago the longest drought between Triple Crown champions.
There was Real Quiet in 1998, who looked like a lock to take the Belmont until he was nailed at the wire by Victory Gallop. And there was Smarty Jones, who also seemed golden in the Belmont stretch only to be reeled in by 36-1 shot Birdstone in the final 70 yards.
So can I'll Have another win it? Steve Cauthen, who as a fresh-faced, 18-year-old jockey rode Affirmed into history, believes the colt can deliver. Not only does he see similarities with Affirmed, but "The Kid'" can also relate to what "new-kid-on-the-block" rider Mario Gutierrez is experiencing.
"I guess I'm having a flashback," Cauthen said Sunday from his breeding farm in Verona, Ky. "He's a new kid on the block like I was. The kid's got a great attitude and a great smile. And, like me, he's been put in a position to ride in these kinds of races and a shot at maybe winning the Triple Crown"