I'll Have Another a triple threat

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:49 AM ET

ELMONT, N.Y. - Paul Reddam has yet to rub the legs of I’ll Have Another or help give the colt his morning bath.

He doesn’t talk specific strategy with trainer Doug O’Neill and when the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes springs open shortly after 6:40 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the Canadian millionaire will feel more helpless than he ever has in his life.

But with I’ll Have Another just 1 1/2 gruelling miles away from making history as horse racing’s twelfth Triple Crown winner and first in 34 years, the owner of the celebrated chestnut colt is savouring the magnitude of the moment.

“There have been a lot of prominent Canadians who have done things in American sports,” Reddam told the Sun on a brilliant Thursday morning at Belmont Park, soaking up the pending climax of an incredible five-week run that started in Kentucky, moved on to Baltimore and concludes here on Long Island.

“When you’re the owner of a horse, you are a large part of it in a way and in another way you are not.

“For me, I just feel that I’m very lucky to be in this position and it’s not because I had some grand breeding plan 20 years ago that is now finally reached the penultimate. It’s just kind of being in the right place at the right time.”

That time and this place has seen I’ll Have Another go from an unheralded $35,000 purchase to being on the brink of joining four-legged legends such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Sir Barton, the Canadian-owned horse who, in 1919, became the first winner of the Triple Crown.

For the first time in his life, the colt will be the betting favourite — and a heavy one at that. Whether he’s good enough is the great unknown. It’s a task so tough it has taken down 11 horses in a similar position since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978.

Though he lives in California now, Reddam is still fiercely proud of his Canadian roots. He loves the fact that his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is applying for Canadian citizenship and that a niece in Victoria and nephew in his home town of Windsor, Ont., each have been profiled in local newspapers as a result of I’ll Have Another’s feats.

“My sister and brother-in-law came into town last night, and they live in Calgary,” Reddam said. “They said it’s just phenomenal that everyone in Calgary’s talking about the Belmont Stakes, which is pretty unusual. It excites me that the next time I go back to Canada, if we win, it would be a big deal.”

While it’s not a purely Canadian crown — I’ll Have Another was bred in Kentucky, is based in California, and is unlikely ever to race north of the border — the ties do run deep.

After both the Derby and the Preakness, Gutierrez retreated to Vancouver, where he was not only feted as a local hero, but grounded by the people who nurtured him for the previous six years since he emigrated from Mexico and began his North American life riding at Hastings Park.

Even I’ll Have Another’s bloodlines have a Canadian connection. The horse’s sire, Flower Alley, is still owned by Eugene Melnyk of Ottawa Senators fame.

Before the Triple Crown began with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, I’ll Have Another was just another three-year-old colt chasing an owner’s dream. Even after he captured the Run for the Roses with a dramatic stretch run, the colt was still seen as second-rate to runner-up Bodemeister.

“He was more or less off the radar, even after the Derby, until people finally stood up and said this horse is a good horse,” Reddam said. “In racing, the interesting thing is it doesn’t matter in one sense how much money you spend because you can spend millions and millions and end up with nothing, as often happens.

“Or you can buy a horse for very cheap and he ends up being a good horse. That’s part of the challenge of the game. It’s not just about winning races, it’s about winning races intelligently. You have to have a certain amount of money to play, but it doesn’t necessarily go to the people with the most money.”

With a doctorate in philosophy, Reddam is both intelligent and wealthy. And one big Saturday away from making sports history.

SUPER MARIO WAS ONCE BOUND FOR WOODBINE?

Who knows where Mario Gutierrez would be right now if he never had the chance first date with I’ll Have Another.

But odds are decent he could have one day been headed for a career as a regular rider at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack.

The native of Mexico, who will try to finish off the Triple Crown Saturday evening at Belmont Racetrack, is in the process of getting his Canadian citizenship, which would have made it easier to settle in at the country’s largest and most prosperous racing oval.

More than one Woodbine trainer has inquired about his availability in the past few years and word is Gutierrez was at least considering taking a shot once he got his paperwork in order.

That all changed when Canadian owner Paul Reddam took notice of the 26-year-old this past winter at Santa Anita after Gutierrez won a race. Reddam asked trainer Doug O’Neill to investigate and, after meeting Gutierrez, a fast and successful partnership was formed.

“As we got to know him, we absolutely fell in love with him,” O’Neill said on Thursday. “His personality and just the way he’s programmed — he’s always giving thanks to the horse. He’s just a breath of fresh air for us.

“I think Mario has always had a lot of talent, it just took a horse like I’ll Have Another to show all of us that it’s here.”

The superstar horse has won all four races with the talented young star on his back. The fact that two of those were Triple Crown races has prompted Gutierrez to aim higher. Though he has returned to Vancouver this spring, it hasn’t been to race.

“Since I came to Santa Anita, my goal was to break into the California circuit,” Gutierrez said on Thursday. “So after (the Triple Crown) is done, I’m going to go back and make California my base and see how it is.”

The California circuit is one of the toughest for a jockey to crack, but if it doesn’t work out to his satisfaction there, Gutierrez will have options. Woodbine, with its big purses, is apparently one should his Canadian citizenship come to reality.

As for riding in the Belmont, Gutierrez is leaving nothing to chance and is determined to prove his detractors wrong.

Many believe the Belmont is the most difficult tactical race of the three Crown races and that Gutierrez’s inexperience will cost him. Of course, it wasn’t a factor in his first Derby and Preakness mounts and the jockey has five scheduled rides on Friday at Belmont Park to give him a taste of the sweeping turns on the historic Long Island track.

“I did watch a lot of (past Belmonts) when I was in Vancouver (last week),” Gutierrez said. “Actually, I watched the losers. I watched all the horses that tried and failed. I know there’s a lot of things that I have to learn.”


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