BALTIMORE, May, 20, 2012 — Winning the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago was no fluke. All the naysayers and skeptics can take a back seat to the fantastic, heart-stopping action that the 137th Preakness produced at Pimlico on Saturday, when I’ll Have Another won by a neck — by a neck!
With his chestnut head low, his neck extended to its maximum and those hooves flying in the dust, I’ll Have Another with Mario Gutierrez clinging to his back, added the Preakness win to his string, making him 4 for 4 on the track. And the young rider who came out of virtually nowhere (Hastings Race Track in Vancouver) a few months ago, smiled and shook his head, wiping tears from his eyes, as he said in his soft Mexican accent, “It’s not me – it’s all about the horse. He’s just a great horse.”
The stage had been set for two weeks now; those “in the know” in horsedom patted the backs of man and steed and dismissively knew it could not happen again. Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister, with the cute angle of being named for his seven-year-old son, Bode, had all the right moves, the better breeding, and, of course, the title of a “Baffert horse.” This upstart who had lucked into a Derby win would surely get his comeuppance at Baltimore. But it was not to be.
Bodemeister had given it a great try, no question about that, but on this day, as on May 5, he simply was not the horse that I’ll Have Another was. The crowd of 122,000 saw Bodemeister try, saw Mike Smith reach for another gear as they got to the home stretch. It just didn’t work.
Sometimes in the ephemeral world of horse racing, there comes together a perfect duo, a man and a horse, with a symbiosis that is basically inexplicable. The man knows and feels the 2,000 pounds under him, and the horse knows the 125 pound jockey on his back, and they work together. This was one of those days.
The race had broken well with the smaller, eleven-horse field, and the horses were tightly grouped for a while. The smaller field made the run less packed and problematical as Bodemeister again went quickly to the lead, with the gray Creative Cause pushing hard and, little by little, the others falling back.
Making up the distance seemed relatively easy; Smith was letting Bodemeister run his own race, which meant getting in front and staying there as he and Baffert had agreed ahead of time, and for a brief moment, it looked like Bodemeister might pull it off.
And then I’ll Have Another hit top gear, running as if possessed, and he simply pulled away, making up three lengths of horse, and moving up on Bodemeister, as if to say, “What? You here again?” Gutierrez wisely left his mount alone: there are racehorses and there are runners, and he knew what his horse was. And again, I’ll Have Another responded.
The young jockey threw his arms high into the air and patted the horse on the neck as they slowed down after the wire. His was the face of sheer joy, and the horse seemed to prance a bit with his own form of elation. The two had done it again and the naysayers and skeptics had to cease their Donnie Downer routine.
It remains to be seen if I’ll Have Another can handle the Belmont, just as we wondered about the Preakness. It’s a longer race and too many times a horse has won both Derby and Preakness and not the Belmont. The last one was the crowd favorite, Big Brown in 2008. It’s been a long dry spell for the Triple Crown, all the way back to Affirmed in 1978, and other winners like Secretariat and Seattle Slew before him.
All three placing horses yesterday were California-based horses; the third place one being the haze of gray called Creative Cause. His jockey had ridden him well, while under a personal and emotional strain. Joel Rosario had received word only hours before that his brother, a police officer in the Dominican Republic, had been killed in a traffic accident. The determined Rosario decided to continue with his ride on Creative Cause, saying he would ride in memory of his brother.
While the race did not set any records, Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another made the 1-1/16 ride in 1:55.94. The son of Flower Alley will now head to Elmont, New York to prepare for the June 9 race and another chance to prove everyone wrong.
Another little known, Zetterholm, came in 4th, and Teeth of the Dog came in 5th. The Sagamore Farms colt got the award for most corporate-tent advertising, since the trackside pavilion had its name was plastered in huge letters the size of school busses and right in front of the grandstand.
But for owner Dr. J. Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill, who has had some potentially bad luck lately, and jockey Mario Gutierrez whose only statements continue to be “He’s a wonderful horse – he just wait till I give him the word, and then he does it,” it was a beautiful May day in the 80s, the track was dry and fairly fast, and they took home the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans. And I for one can’t wait for the Belmont.
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