J. Paul Reddam might not be the type of businessman for whom people suffering through the recession can bring themselves to root.
Reddam, 56, is president of Anaheim-based CashCall, the mortgage refinancing and high-interest personal loan company who critics say has unfairly capitalized upon people's financial woes during the country's economic and employment crisis.
But the Sunset Beach resident is also owner of Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another, who could provide horse racing with a huge shot in the arm Saturday with a victory in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. A victory there and I'll Have Another would be a Belmont Stakes win away from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
Your company sponsors the Hollywood Park CashCall Futurity. How long have you been involved in horse racing?
"Thoroughbreds since 1988, but it goes back to being involved in standardbreds — harness racing — in 1979. Only to have some fun. There was never a dream to win the Kentucky Derby."
You've owned about 200 horses. When did you ratchet up your interest?
"In 2000, I sold my company, Ditech Funding, and had some cash. I always loved racing, so I decided to get involved in a bigger way. I bought one horse for $700,000 at a dispersal sale, Swept Overboard, which won two Grade I's, including the Met Mile. I later sold him to a Japanese breeder for $3 million."
So then you were really all in?
"Pretty much. Psychologists would call racing intermittent reinforcement. You're going to get some reinforcement, but not knowing when is the root of the most powerful form of addiction. It's like sitting down at a slot machine. When you finally win, there's nothing like it."
After winning the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Wilko, and the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf with Red Rocks, how did you land I'll Have Another?
"[Trainer] Doug O'Neill's brother, Dennis, is a bloodstock agent who went to [a horse] auction in Florida last spring for 2-year-olds in training. He caught me in a good mood and persuaded me to buy six of them, with I'll Have Another going for $35,000."
What impressed you about the horse?
"His pedigree said, 'Gee, this horse can run a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half,' but the first time I ran him was at a 2-year-old sprint at Hollywood Park and he won. It made me think, 'Boy, this horse has two-turn pedigree but shows strong one-turn speed — that's not something it's supposed to do.' "
You get the credit for matching jockey Mario Gutierrez, 25, with I'll Have Another. How did you make that match?
"I was at Santa Anita having lunch with Doug and I saw Mario [ride] a race and said, 'That kid looks good in the irons.' Doug didn't know him, had never met him, but as we were speculating who'd ride our stable was in a slump. I said, 'Why don't we try a new guy?' Doug said he'd have Mario work the horse, meet him, and let me know his input. Doug came back and said, 'I'm OK with this guy.' Really, it was just blind luck."
I've been told you made a six-figure bet — resulting in a seven-figure payout — on I'll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby. Is that true?
"Yes. It's the biggest bet I've ever made by far. I don't want to shoot my mouth off too much. I don't bet like that ever. But I just thought everything was going perfect. Finding this rookie rider from Mexico. The race was on Cinco de Mayo. The No. 19 post, I thought, was a good thing, because everyone else angles to the front and good horses, the main competitors, get stopped in that gridlock while my horse was in the clear."
What were the final moments of the Derby like for you?
"I thought he was gobbling up ground fast at the eighth pole. From that time to the wire seemed like an hour and a half even though it was 13 seconds. I was looking around to see if there was another horse coming. There wasn't. It was, 'Oh my goodness, we're going to win the Kentucky Derby!' Then it happened. And it was bedlam."
Will he win the Preakness?
"I believe it can happen. We still need a fair amount of luck, a good trip without interference. The reports out of Pimlico are that he's galloping with great energy. There's lots of reasons to be optimistic, but there are 13 others trying to beat him. I'm going to go and see what happens. If he wins or loses, we'll deal with it."
Have you enjoyed this?
"This week has been pretty exhausting. This short run as a semi-celebrity. … I've been thinking I don't want to be a real celebrity. But since it's only a short run, I'll just roll with it. Everyone seems quite excited about this horse, and the sport. If the horse loses, the air goes out of the balloon. I hope it doesn't. I'd love to go to New York with a chance. I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know there's only one horse in the world that can win the Triple Crown, and it feels great to have him."