I'll Have Another eyes Preakness

I'll Have Another with jockey Mario Gutierrez (centre) in the irons wins the 138th Kentucky Derby...

I'll Have Another with jockey Mario Gutierrez (centre) in the irons wins the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kent., May 5, 2012. (JEFF HAYNES/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 PM ET

BALTIMORE - For the most part, they are a pair of Californians who are riding high behind racing’s hottest horse.

But every so often, trainer Doug O’Neill gets a subtle reminder that he’s working for a Canadian owner. When it comes to talking about Paul Reddam’s beloved Detroit Red Wings, after all, there are ground rules.

First: During the season, never mention the score of a game, because it’s being recorded at home for Reddam, who grew up in Windsor, Ont., and still cherishes his roots, to watch after the races.

Second: Best not to talk about the goaltending situation in Hockeytown these days.

“If (Reddam) could watch horse racing and hockey all day long, he’d be in heaven,” O’Neill said in a recent interview on the Pimlico Racecourse backstretch where, this Saturday, their colt I’ll Have Another will attempt to win the Preakness Stakes and his second jewel of the Triple Crown.

“He’s determined. If he could write a cheque for the Red Wings to get a goaltender, I think he’d do it.”

Many more horses like I’ll Have Another, who earned $1.5 million US for his upset win in the Kentucky Derby on May 5th, and Reddam might just have the means.

For both Reddam and O’Neill, having the Derby winner is the pinnacle of a life’s love of racing.

For the owner, it started at harness tracks in Ontario, where he gambled on the ponies long before he started buying them.

For the trainer, a career of grinding out a living with mostly cheaper horses transformed into much better stock thanks to landing Reddam as a client.

The two first met a decade ago through a mutual friend. They started with some claiming horses, the type of animal that fills the weekday cards at most North American tracks, looking to have a little fun and success. Before long, both yearned for more and, gradually, the money Reddam made from his SoCal business ventures gave them the means to do it.

“As I got to know him, things started to grow,” O’Neill said. “You could tell he doesn’t come from money. You could tell he’s a very down-to-earth, normal guy. He worked his butt off to get where he is and he treats people like that. He hasn’t forgotten that he was born in Windsor in a real average upbringing.”

Though winning the Derby has thrust Reddam onto national newscasts north and south of the border, I’ll Have Another is not his first big stakes success.

In 2004, the 55-year-old, who now calls Sunset Beach home, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Wilko, a horse he had just purchased from a trainer in England. In 2006, Red Rocks, another horse he bought in Europe, won the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

He knocked on the door of the Derby a couple of times, with Ten Most Wanted in 2003 followed by Great Hunter and Liquidity and 2007 though all finished well back. In 2009, Reddam had Canadian-bred Square Eddie primed to run, but was forced to scratch the colt six days prior to the race due to injury.

The partnership with O’Neill seems to work particularly well because of their common upbringing in the sport and the presence of O’Neill’s brother Dennis. While bloodstock agent Jamie McCalmont handles much of Reddam’s European purchases, Dennis O’Neill does the U.S. scouting and was responsible for the $35,000 purchase of I’ll Have Another.

“It’s something that he likes, that we were raised in similar settings with a similar upbringing,” O’Neill said of his relationship with Reddam.

“I know his parents both had a tremendous work ethic and I was blessed with the same. Paul is a first-generation horse owner and I’m a first-generation horse trainer. There’s no blue blood running through us.

“We have a very good relationship, I like to think. We don’t do much without both of us agreeing. He would never say, ‘I don’t care what you think, do this.’ And I would never say that either. When we do have success, it all feels so good because we were in the whole planning stage together.

“Like the rest of us, we all want good news and good results every day, but he handles the coughs or the injuries or the other bad news great. He really is just a dream owner to have as far as his love for the game and his knowledge of the game.”

Both of them don’t mind a good gamble now and again, either. Reddam, who found the racetrack on a whim with a friend in Windsor and started betting while in high school, hasn’t revealed his Derby betting stake on I’ll Have Another, though he’s been known to have made the occasional five-figure wager. In the winter, O’Neill put a $100 down on the colt at a Nevada casino at odds of 200-1 for a nice $20,000 score.

“The one thing that’s obvious about him is that he just loves the game,” O’Neill said. “Through hard work and success, he’s able to own a lot of horses. He was a huge fan of the game prior to owning them.”

And it turns out now, a big winner.

TRAINER DENIES HORSE-DOPING CHARGES

This should be the best week of Doug O’Neill’s life.

He is training the Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another up to Saturday’s second jewel of the Triple Crown and his horse has never looked better.

But instead of talking exclusively about the three-year-old chestnut colt, O’Neill has been forced to defend his somewhat checkered past in the sport. Hanging over the California trainer’s head is a potential 180-day suspension with the California Horse Racing Board following a post-race test of one of his horses revealed elevated carbon dioxide levels.

In racing, such readings are often a result of the illegal pre-race procedure known as “milkshaking,” in which horses are administered a mixture of bicarbonate soda, electrolytes and sugar to help minimize fatigue and enhance a horse’s performance. O’Neill has denied every “milkshaking” a horse despite previous violations.

“We love our horses, we play by the rules,” O’Neill told reporters at Pimlico on Monday. “We are vigorously challenging the previous allegations. It’s very expensive, but we’re fighting it and feel confident that we’ll come out on the winning end. I owe it to the horse and (Canadian owner Paul Reddam) anyone who is supporting him this Saturday to focus on having him ready.”

O’Neill feels I’ll Have Another, who rallied late in the Churchill Downs stretch to catch Bodemeister in the final 100 yards of the Derby, should be celebrated for his accomplishment.

“This particular horse and all of our horses have gone through every physical exam, every blood exam, everything you can think of,” O’Neill said. “They have come out clean. Anyone (who) hangs around our barn knows that we love our horses and we take great care of them. That’s the bottom line.”

GUTIERREZ BECAME STUDENT OF FILM

When Paul Reddam made the decision to hire little-known jockey Mario Gutierrez to ride I’ll Have Another, he had some advice to his trainer: Break down the film.

So before Gutierrez, a native of Mexico who a year ago was riding at Vancouver’s Hastings Park, took his first mount in a Triple Crown race, trainer Doug O’Neill took him to the Kentucky Derby museum and watched endless replays of past Derby runnings.

The plan is to have similar preparation for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico where the shorter distance (1-3/16th miles versus 1-1/4 in the Derby) adds to the strategy.

“It worked well in the Derby — it helped us both,” O’Neill said. “He’s a very thoughtful rider. He’s so quiet on a horse yet he’s very confident of his ability.

“Externally, anyway, he didn’t even flinch at all the pressure of the Derby.”


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