BALTIMORE - The question now is does I’ll Have Another have one more in him?
The better part of the horse racing industry, minus those that go up against him in three weeks time at the Belmont, sure hope so.
Owned by Windsor, Ont., native Paul Reddam, I’ll Have Another will try to become the first horse since Affirmed to win the elusive Triple Crown, a feat achieved just 11 times in the history of the sport.
He earned that opportunity with a stunning stretch run to capture the $1-million Preakness Stakes by a neck, just edging past race favourite Bodemeister at the finish line.
For Reddam, who now lives in Sunset Beach, this race was the ultimate proving ground for his colt.
“I think there was a common feeling from what I read inside that (my) horse won the Derby because he got the perfect trip,” Reddam began. “And if he didn’t get the perfect trip, he wouldn’t have won. So it wasn’t so much the horse as the way the race went. I think today went at what I would call a reasonable pace. He didn’t have trouble, but he was certainly wide in the first turn. He showed that he’s the real deal. He’s a real race horse. He gutted it out.
“This horse hasn’t had the most respect,” Reddam said. “He’s never been favoured ... I don’t know if that will be the case next time after today’s race.”
I’ll Have Another went off at 3-1 odds, second to Bodemeister’s 2-1.
As expected Bodemeister, the only real speed horse in the field took to the front right away with Creative Cause hot on his trail.
I’ll Have Another, with the ice-in-his-veins jockey Mario Gutierrez in complete control, kept the pair in his sights a few lengths back.
Unlike the Derby though when Bodemeister took jockey Mike Smith on a wildly fast first half mile, Smith this time kept his colt to a more realistic 47 second half-mile.
With the Preakness a full 110 yards shorter than the Derby, that got trainer Doug O’Neill’s attention.
“I saw that 47 and change and I was a little concerned,” O’Neill admitted, “but Mario did a great job of keeping the horse in the clear and giving us a chance.”
As they turned for home, all that was between I’ll Have Another and the finish line was Bodemeister who had a lead of 21/2 lengths.
Reddam admitted he wasn’t sure his horse could catch the speedster at that point. Even O’Neill admitted to having some doubts at that point. The only one who wasn’t worried at that point was Gutierrez who knew his horse could run Bodemeister down again.
Smith, aboard the favourite, was all but sure he couldn’t be caught this time.
“I thought I put him away but he reached up and got us with three strides,” Smith said. “Two great horses and I give them all the credit for what they did.”
Holding on for third behind Bodemeister was Creative Cause.
I’ll Have Another will be the first horse with even a shot at the Triple Crown since Big Brown went to the New York track in 2008 and finished ninth. All told 32 horses have won the first two legs, although only 30 have gone on to the Belmont to try for the Triple Crown.
Just getting there with the chance has already been one heck of a ride for I’ll Have Another.
Overlooked in Kentucky, I’ll Have Another came from the No. 19 post in the 20-horse field to win.
With a Derby win under his belt he was still no better than the second favourite at Saturday’s Preakness.
As five-time Preakness winner Bob Baffert noted after a second consecutive loss to the Flower Alley colt, “He’ll get the respect now that he deserves.”
And Baffert knows how big what I’ll Have Another is doing is for the entire industry.
“It can happen,” Baffert said earlier this week when asked if he thought a Triple Crown was even possible anymore. “I’ll Have Another, if he can pull this off at the Preakness (which he did), I don’t think he has distance limitations. He can keep on going.”
And Baffert would be fine with that.
“I think it’s good for Belmont to have a Triple Crowan possibility,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “It really fills up the grandstand. Those people have just been showing up every time for a Triple Crown. Every time I left — Baffert has been to the Belmont three times with the chance at a Triple Crown — I think I felt worse for the fans because I felt like I let them down.”
Dennis O’Neill doesn’t want to jinx the colt, but he like’s I’ll Have Another’s chances in New York.
“I have said all along this would be our toughest race,” he said of the Preakness. “The shortening up and Bodemeister with the scratches of the other speed, I really thought we might be in trouble. It actually unfolded exactly as I thought it would unfold but I didn’t think we would catch him. Even right before the wire I didn’t think we could catch him.”
Now with the Preakness under their belts, O’Neill feels the biggest challenge is behind them.
“I hate to be cocky about the Belmont but I thought the Belmont would be an easier one to win,” he said. “The distance won’t be a problem and his style ... I mean he will be close up. It’s not like he comes from the clouds. He should run really well. As long as he gets a hold of the track OK, and every track we have put him on he has loved.”
The plan is to ship I’ll Have Another to New York on Sunday to avoid any big mid-week traffic delays. Doug and Dennis O’Neill will head back to California for a few days and then join the colt in New York towards the end of the week.
Suffice to say, the doubters will still be there for I’ll Have Another, but there won’t be as many.
GUTIERREZ SILENCES CRITICS AGAIN
Soon the racing world will stop doubting Mario Gutierrez. Certainly it will as long as he’s riding I’ll Have Another.
For the second time in the past two weeks, the 25-year-old Mexican rider with Canadian roots — thanks to a six-year apprenticeship at Hastings Park in Vancouver — proved the naysayers wrong by coming from 31/2 lengths back in the stretch to run down the favourite Bodemeister for the second time in as many weeks and win the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes.
All week there have been questions about whether a rookie trainer and his rookie jockey could do it again when the pressure was on, but Gutierrez in particular seemed to have the most to prove.
“You know what? He didn’t realize it (the enormousness of the Kentucky Derby),” Baffert said midweek of Gutierrez’ approach to his first Triple Crown race. “Martin Garcia (who rode for Baffert) was the same way when he won the Preakness; they don’t know. Then all of a sudden they start winning those and then it’s like, ‘Oh, (expletive).’ Then they get nervous.”
Well, if there were nerves on Gutierrez’ part, he kept them well hidden.
Gutierrez may be a novice compared to the likes of Mike Smith and John Valazquez and the like, but he knows his craft.
He handled his horse better in Louisville than Smith handled Bodemeister and then showed the veteran how it was done a second time in Saturday’s Preakness.
Even pushed wide on the first two turns at Pimlico, Gutierrez did not panic.
He has all the confidence in the world in the horse and that confidence made him confident.
“I want to put the pressure a little bit on the side,” Gutierrez said when all the post-race questioning started to centre on him rather than I’ll Have Another. “The horse deserves the credit. He earned it. He never got a lucky trip (something many were saying about the Derby win).
“He has proven himself in the run. I just wanted to prepare. I want to be on the same level as him. He’s an amazing horse and I’m just happy to be riding him.”
But once the questioning turned to where his own confidence came from, Gutierrez again rose to the occasion.
“I know this horse is a great horse,” he said. “He makes me have a lot of confidence. You know, there’s Mr. Reddam and Doug and I’ve got family coming here from Veracruz. When they saw me out there, those are the people that helped me when I didn’t have anything. Those are the people that keep believing in me. They put so much confidence in me. It’s just great to have those kind of people. I think I’ve been very lucky that way.”
Assistant trainer Dennis O’Neill, the brother of Doug O’Neill and the first member of the O’Neill team to lay eyes on I’ll Have Another when he purchased him for $35,000, felt the key to the entire Preakness win was the young jockey’s performance.
“For me the story was Mario,” O’Neill said. “The ride he gave today was just beyond belief. He could have got forced way wide on the first turn. He asked that horse to go, if you watch it, to get a good spot and he was only three wide on the first turn instead of being out five or six wide. Then going into the far turn he gets him out and then he gets him over to that right lane and he gets the rhythm going and you just pray to God he’s going to get up.”
And get up I’ll Have Another did catching Bodemeister just before the wire as he closed relentlessly on the favourite, winning by a neck.