|Mario Gutierrez celebrates atop I'll Have Another after winning the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Rob Carr/Getty Images/AFP)
LOUISVILLE, KY. - Before he became a philosophy major and later a professor, Paul Reddam primarily applied his deep thinking to picking winners at the racetrack.
He soon learned that logic didn't always apply to racehorses, however, the thrill of the gamble never left the Windsor, Ont. native.
Call it passion or call it a vice, Reddam's life-long love never paid off more than it did early Saturday evening at famed Churchill Downs when his colt, I'll Have Another, captured the biggest prize of all. Storming down the stretch, the long-striding three-year-old colt claimed the lead just past the twin spires and strode home the confident and convincing winner of Kentucky Derby 138.
After getting his master's degree at the University of Toronto, which led him to buy a standardbred at old Greenwood Raceway, the 56-year-old Reddam moved to California where he earned his fortune. And with the means to play the game he has loved since a teenager, he has indulged himself to court it at the highest level.
"It started for me in high school where my friend was a groom at the local harness track (soon to be closed Windsor Raceway) and we'd skip off school to gamble a little bit," Reddam said after cashing in the winner's share just shy of $1.5 million U.S.
"I never really dreamed I would be in a position to own race horses, but I got lucky and it happened. I guess I'm still lucky."
Those who "gambled a little bit" on I'll Have Another on Saturday were rewarded with a handsome $32.60 on a $2 bet as the confident chestnut outran favourite Bodemeister to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The champion finished the 1 1/4-miles in a solid 2:01 4/5 in a field that was considered to be one of the deepest in years.
Even the greatest triumph of Reddam's life came with a calculated risk that tapped into his Canadian roots. When looking for a jockey to ride I'll Have Another in last month's Santa Anita Derby, he opted on Mario Gutierrez, a native of Mexico who a year ago was the top rider at Vancouver's Hastings Park, a long and mostly unimaginable journey from the Churchill Downs winner's circle.
But despite being stuck with Post 19 in a field of 20 - a spot no horse had previously won from - Gutierrez rode like a champion. He settled the colt off the early speed, keeping close enough to launch a sustained bid in the stretch in front of a roaring Derby record crowd of 165,307.
And it wasn't just the winning jock who was unheralded.
Though he's had some big horses, trainer Doug O'Neill works predominantly with claiming class horses on the Southern California circuit. And in a sport where it sometimes takes seven figures to land the best bred animals, I'll Have Another was bought as a yearling for $35,000.
"We're kind of a working class group," Reddam said. "From the trainer, to the owner, to the jockey, we don't come from the bluest of blood. We recognize that and that's okay. The horse is the same way."
Even the horse's breeding has a tie to another Canadian. His sire, Flower Alley, was owned and raced by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, but is far from an in demand stallion among the thoroughbred elite.
There's some useful blood in I'll Have Another though, as the hard-trying chestnut is coming into his own at just the right time. As most in the field wearied coming for home on Saturday, the winner's stride remained strong and steady through the stretch.
"He had great position and a trouble-free trip," said O'Neill, who like the owner and rider won his first Triple Crown race. "He really stretched for home down the lane. The way he maintained that beautiful stride was incredible."
Though he lives in Sunset Beach, Calif. now where his mortgage and lending business has made him millions, Reddam has long coveted a day like this. Whether it was skipping school to bet cheap claimers at Windsor, to buying harness horses in Toronto or jumping into the thoroughbred game, the goal was always the big score.
"I don't know how at this point anything could be bigger than winning the Kentucky Derby," said Reddam. "But if you hear of something, let me know.
"Horse racing is the most dangerous kind of addiction because it has intermittent (positive) reinformcement. Every once in a while something good happens."
And on even rarer occasions, something great.