I’ll Have Another has two legs up on history


BALTIMORE -- The amazing story moved up to incredible. I’ll Have Another ran true to his name.

On a Saturday that brought blue skies, perfect temperatures and a record crowd of 121,309 here at venerable Pimlico racetrack, the horse who has never been favored in a race and has been mostly under-appreciated by the public, even the racing public, won the 137th Preakness.

Now, it is I’ll Have Another who will take a shot at history. The last horse to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978. There have been only 11, going back to Sir Barton in 1919. The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness was Big Brown in 2008, and he was mysteriously pulled up in the Belmont.

The story of I’ll Have Another is becoming familiar, and it’s about time. Owner J. Paul Reddam keynoted that quite simply afterward.

“He hasn’t had the most respect,” Reddam said.

Amazingly, the Kentucky Derby winner paid $8.40, $3.80 and $2.80. That’s mostly because Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister had the short odds in the field, as he did in the Derby.

But as in the Derby, I’ll Have Another was not interested in anything less than the whole cookie, and when he ran down Baffert’s speed demon once again and won by a neck, the people with reason to see him as less than Triple Crown quality were left without argument.

Reddam said, “I think there was a common feeling … that the horse won the Derby because he had a perfect trip. If he didn’t get the perfect trip, he wouldn’t have won…[Today] he shows he is the real deal.”

Dennis O’Neill, who identified I’ll Have Another for Reddam to purchase, said, “Going into today, I thought this horse was a really, really good horse going in. After today, he’s proven to be a great horse.”

Reddam made the purchase for $35,000, chump change for a well-bred thoroughbred. Reddam delivered him to his main trainer, Dennis’ brother, Doug, who has not only trained this horse to perfection, but become a rock star in the process.

“It’s all about the horse,” Doug O’Neill said afterward, knowing full well it’s never about the horse, past their performance, because they can’t talk and they take on the personality of the people around them. That being the case, I’ll Have Another is quite the popular guy.

O’Neill hit Baltimore like a swarm of bees and never stopped buzzing. He has always been accessible and quotable at home in Southern California but has never had a stage as big as this one. The charm, humor and ever-present smile took over Baltimore and seem like a lock to do the same in New York.

He said he would do as he did after the Derby — send I’ll Have Another right to Belmont so he can get used to the track and to being there. O’Neill said he would go home to Santa Monica and tend to things at his home base at Hollywood Park for a few days and then head for New York. The race is June 9, so that leaves plenty of time for O’Neill to make it there, as he is making it everywhere.

I’ll Have Another, named for Reddam’s cookie-begging habits at home in Sunset Beach, has yet to lose in 2012 and now has winnings of $3,029,600 in seven races. He won the Bob and Beverly Lewis Stakes in February as a prep for the Santa Anita Derby, which he then won in April by nosing out Creative Cause, the third-place finisher here Saturday. Creative Cause finished nearly nine lengths back of Bodemeister.

The Santa Anita Derby victory got the racing world so excited that he went off at 15-1 in the Kentucky Derby. He chased down Bodemeister but left all the experts assuming that, because the Preakness was a sixteenth-of-a-mile shorter, that he’d never be able to run down Bodemeister this time.

But he did, and he left veteran jockey Mike Smith, aboard Bodemeister again, both angry and amazed.

“I thought I had him this time,” Smith said. “My horse ran all out, gave everything, and we still didn’t get it. We’ve got to put him away, and I thought we did. I don’t like it. I’m a pro. I’m supposed to win. What can I say? I’ve got to give the other horse credit.”

Bodemeister’s splits, unlike the blistering ones he turned in in the Derby, were much more reasonable at 23.79 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 47.68 for the half. Bodemeister should have had plenty left, and did, but not enough to hold off I’ll Have Another.

Smith was asked what, in retrospect, he might have done differently to get more speed out of Bodemeister.

“Maybe get off,” he said.

Smith had high praise for jockey Mario Gutierrez, who is 25 and whose exposure to the bright lights of racing have all been aboard I’ll Have Another. Smith called Gutierrez “a brilliant young rider,” and Gutierrez, still wondering what hit him since O’Neill and Reddam put him on the horse on a whim for the Lewis Stakes, said he had never been to Belmont, nor to New York.

He will be shielded from the bright lights by his trainer, who was asked if he could keep up the incredible media and public access he has allowed and reveled in from the moment he won the Derby. He was asked about doing the Letterman show, and he said he’s there if they ask. First pitches at Yankee Stadium and ringing bells at the New York Stock Exchange were bantered about.

O’Neill smiled, shrugged and worked on his lines.

Asked if his wife, Linette, who is allergic to most horses, was allergic to I’ll Have Another.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “The large checks seem to ease the itching and coughing.”