A horse few believed in. A jockey with little big-time experience. A very accomplished trainer who had never won a Triple Crown race.
All that’s changed is I’ll Have Another shocked an incredibly competitive field to win the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.
On a day when speed was holding up, the Southern California-based horse blew past a tiring Bodemeister in deep stretch to win by 11/2 lengths. It was the third time jockey Mario Gutierrez, 25, has ridden the colt, having previously won the Robert B. Lewis and Santa Anita Derby. It was also the first time a horse has ever won from the 19 post.
A year ago, Mario Gutierrez was the leading rider at Hastings Race Track in Vancouver, Canada, and watched the Kentucky Derby in the jockey’s room.
“All jockeys dream they will one day be in the Kentucky Derby,” Gutierrez said. “I wasn’t thinking it would be the next year.”
Not to understate Gutierrez’s major race experience, but I’ll Have Another’s owner, Paul Reddam, put it this way.
“That was the second time Mario rode on the dirt at Churchill Downs and the first time was earlier today,” Reddam said. “So we got him the experience he needed.”
I’ll Have Another was a bargain buy for Reddam. Assistant trainer Dennis O’Neill bought the horse for Reddam for $35,000 and, of course, he was in brother Doug’s barn.
But first there was the naming thing. Conventional wisdom would indicate this is a tribute to drinking, but in fact, Reddam has said that his wife is always baking chocolate chip cookies, and when she asks, he says, “I’ll have another.”
Reddam was quite reserved compared with his trainer, Doug O’Neill, who was whooping and hollering like, well, he’d just won the Kentucky Derby.
“Southern California, baby,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to Maryland.”
O’Neill says he will probably keep I’ll Have Another at Churchill Downs and then van him to Maryland for the Preakness in two weeks.
“It’s incredible,” O’Neill said. “When you tell people you’re in the horse racing game, they ask you if you’ve ever won a Kentucky Derby. Now I can say, ‘Yes, I have.’”
O’Neill has one of the largest stables in Southern California and has won three Breeders’ Cup races, but a Triple Crown win was missing from his resume until Saturday.
I’ll Have Another didn’t have a lot of backers. He went off at $15.30 to the dollar, or the ninth favorite in the race. He paid $32.60, $13.80 and $9. The $2 exacta with Bodemeister paid $306.60.
A late surge of money made Bodemeister the favorite at $4.20 on the dollar. Dullahan finished third, Went The Day Well was fourth, and Santa Anita Derby runner-up Creative Cause was fifth.
“I think he was such a high price because I was training him and Mario was riding him,” O’Neill said. “If it was a [Todd] Pletcher, [John] Velazquez horse, he would have been 9-2.”
I’ll Have Another broke sharply and was well placed mid-stretch the first time around. He worked his way to sixth by the quarter-mile and stayed around there for the next half mile. He made a slight move up to fourth at the mile marker. By the time they hit the stretch, he was a sneaky second on the outside, three lengths behind Bodemeister.
The record crowd of 165,307 surely thought Bodemeister would hold on despite ridiculously fast early fractions of 22.32 at the quarter and 45.39 at the half. By comparison, his quarter time would be about the third fastest by a horse ever at the Kentucky Derby and the half-mile time would be about the second fastest. (Refinements in timing techniques makes it impossible to compare exact times.)
“He ran his race,” said Bob Baffert, Bodemeister’s trainer. “He was there and just got tired a little bit. He’s only run four times, and I was really proud of him. He’s a super impressive horse.
“It’s the only time I’ve run second where I’ve been happy because he ran his race.”
The second race favorite, Union Rags, finished an improving seventh, but he was never really in the race, spending most of the early going near the back of the pack.
Undefeated Gemologist was as high as fifth at three-quarters of a mile but faded back to a disappointing 16th.
O’Neill saw this as a big moment for Southern California racing.
“Having the Santa Anita Derby winner win the Kentucky Derby” is great, O’Neill said. “We’re carrying the flag for Southern California. Any horsemen that have any interest in beautiful weather and good purses, come to Southern California because it’s a great place to train, a great place to live.”
It’s been awhile. The last Santa Anita Derby winner to win on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs was Sunday Silence in 1989.