VIENNA, Va., May 6, 2012 — It’s like the equine elephant in the equestrian room — a little known horse with minimal credentials. A totally unknown jockey from Vancouver. Sire and dam who never hit it big. From an up and coming stable in California but still not on the big name lists.
And then down the last quarter mile came I’ll Have Another, romping through the crowded track at Churchill Downs, gaily and almost without effort, passing the much-heralded Bodemeister of Bob Baffert. Suddenly the roses were his and his alone.
The horse stood there in the winner’s circle, shook his head a couple of times, and I’ll Have Another dared one and all to look down their collective noses at him or Mario Gutierrez, his joyous jockey.
The 138th Derby was the stuff that horse racing stories are made of, since the favorite rarely wins, and the come-from-behind guy just smells those roses down the track and heads straight for them. What a race, what a story, what a bright and sunny day at the Downs!!
First things first: the owner, Paul Reddam, grew up watching harness racing and caught the racing bug in Windsor, Ontario, Canada when he was in school. No slouch in the classroom, he may well be the first owner with a B.A., M. A. and Ph.D. He even taught philosophy at a California college.
He bought his first Thoroughbred in 1988 and currently has 40 horses in his stable. And then came I’ll Have Another, and the rest will mainly be footnotes in his resumé.
Mario Gutierrez was born in Veracruz, Mexico but has been riding in Vancouver, Canada for the last few years, where he is one of the leaders, having given up on making it in Mexico. In Canada he was able to find rides in Northern California, and finally got a one at the famed Santa Anita. It was there that Reddam first saw him and liked what he saw.
When Gutierrez was first introduced to I’ll Have Another, man and colt clicked. Trainer Doug O’Neill recognized the bond that seemed to form between the two and Reddam decided to give him a chance. The rest, as they say, is history, horse history, and at the biggest and best venue of them all.
I’ll Have Another has a slightly different story since he had been looking good until he developed sore shins on September 5 at Saratoga, N.Y. and pulled himself up short. Knowing horses as they do, the owner and trainer decided to give him some time off and let the shins heal.
Shin soreness often results when the surface of the track dries out and causes greater impact on the cannon bones of the horse, right along the shin area. You can treat with wraps and you can treat with phenylbutazone, but often the best treatment is rest. And so it was with the chestnut horse.
He was bought in Florida at an Ocala Breeders sale for the paltry price of $35,000. Price does not mean everything: the famed Seattle Slew was bought for one-half that price. But both owner and trainer Doug O’Neill (the first Derby for him also) saw something they liked and he went home with them.
The Name and the Ride
For those whose tastes lean toward Mint Juleps and Margaritas (the win came on Cinco de Mayo), the name has other connotations and comes from Reddam’s evening snack of cookies, where his wife advised he always says, “I’ll have another.”
The horse went off at 15-1, a relative midway position in the racing odds list and broke from the gate well according to Gutierrez. The favorite Bodemeister took off like something was after him, went to the head of the pack, and stayed there. Maybe he preferred not having mud and dust in his face.
In any event, Bodemeister covered the quarter-mile in 22.32 seconds, making white horse Hansen with his over-the-top owner and the little known Trinniberg give chase.
Bodemeister’s trainer Bob Baffert had always told jockey Mike Smith to let him go, and the jockey did just that.
Hansen’s fate was sadly sealed before the race began. He got fractious in the paddock area, sweating heavily, and turning his coat almost pink enough to match his tongue. He had worn himself out mentally there, and the race itself was secondary to the temperamental fellow, who would finish in ninth place, after a good effort.
No one knows why a horse does that sometimes. Perhaps two-legged folks ask too much of their four-legged friends, and the horse knows when not to run.
Union Rags, another heavy favorite, seemed to get bogged down by the other horses at the start of the race, and as rider Julien Leparoux said, “Had no place to go.”
While Bodemeister was running hard and staying in the lead, I’ll Have Another was turning on the jets, just 50 yards from the finish line, and flew by him with little effort, winning by a length-and-a-half. I’ll Have Another and Gutierrez had been tested by the best and they had won.
The little known owner and stable, the lesser-known horse, and the jockey no one could remember, had won the biggest prize of all, the Kentucky Derby. What’s not to like about that?
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