Haskin's Derby Recap: Cookie Monster

Paul Reddam stood outside Barn 3 shortly before the announcement to bring the horses to the paddock for the 138th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Dressed in a white shirt and purple tie, the colors of his silks, Reddam appeared relaxed and confident, believing his colt, I’ll Have another, was ready to prove to the world what he already knew; that this was an exceptional colt.

Everything had gone perfectly since the day the son of Flower Alley – Arch’s Gal Edith, by Arch returned to training this winter after being sidelined with sore shins. Trainer Doug O’Neill had done a masterful job getting the colt this far, with victories in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), and Reddam felt there was enough karma behind the story of unknown jockey Mario Gutierrez to appease the Derby gods. Not even drawing post 19, which had never produced a Derby winner, could temper his confidence.

O’Neill was his usual fun-loving self, not showing any signs that he was about to run in the most important race of his life. Even O’Neill’s brother, Dennis, who is more low-keyed and intense, was feeling good about their chances.

Team O’Neill, as they like to be called, was ready. I’ll Have Another, who had been tearing around the Churchill Downs track every morning for the past three days, was ready. And Gutierrez, who had been riding at tiny Hastings Park in British Columbia until this year and who barely knew what the Kentucky Derby was when he came to this country from Mexico in 2006, was ready. This was his time to prove to those who were convinced he would have a meltdown in the Derby that he was able to compete at the highest level on racing’s biggest stage.

“The great thing about this kid is that they’re going to play ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ and everyone else is going to be shaking, and he won’t even care; he’s never even heard of it.” Reddam said with that familiar grin and twinkle in his eye. “Today is Cinco de Mayo, and he’s more familiar with mariachi bands.”

As for his own nerves, he said, “I am not nervous in the slightest. I’ve been nervous before; what good does that do? I was nervous before the Santa Anita Derby, because, although I thought he was a good horse, you wonder if the Lewis was some kind of weird fluke. I felt it was legitimate, but I had to see him do it again. After he won, I knew he was the real deal, and now I really believe he’s going to run the race of his life.”

And that’s just what he did. Before a record crowd of 165,307, and facing one of the deepest and most talented fields in Kentucky Derby history, I’ll Have Another, at odds of 15-1, ran down a courageous Bodemeister, who had set blistering fractions over the souped up track to win by 1 ½ lengths.

As Reddam was about to partake in the walk over to the paddock with his wife Zillah he couldn’t help but be grateful that he was back again at the Downs after the failures of Wilko in 2005 and Liquidity and Great Hunter in 2007.

This time, the journey getting here was rewarding in that, despite being unorthodox, every piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. O’Neill and Reddam had come up with a plan early in the year to get to the Derby and stuck to it, even though very little about it was conventional.

You don’t run a 3-year-old first time out off a five-month layoff and then give him another two months off before his final Derby prep. They did.

You don’t put an unknown rider from a small-time track in British Columbia on a potential Derby horse who has no experience in big races. They did.

You don’t work a young 3-year-old between races and have him go in 1:10 flat, and then follow that up with stiff works at a mile, two at seven furlongs, and one at six furlongs. They did.

You don’t run in the Derby without having at least one work over the Churchill Downs track, as 18 of the last 20 Derby winners had done. They did.

What they also did was take home the coveted garland of roses.

There was no way Reddam could imagine that the road to those roses would actually begin when he was sitting at home one night watching TV. He asked Zillah to bring him some cookies, and after eating one, he said to her, as he usually did, “I’ll have another.” On this occasion, however, the comment stuck and he decided it would be a fun name for a horse.

The colt who would bear that name was a 2-year-old that Dennis picked out at the Ocala Breeders Sales Company April sale for $35,000. He felt if he can pay $35,000 and the horse can win for $45,000 or $50,000 he’s done a good job. Bred in Kentucky by Harvey Clarke, the chestnut colt, born on April Fools Day, actually had been consigned as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale as Hip no. 3660.

Enter Victor Davila, who would play a major role in the I’ll Have Another story. Davila is an exercise rider for Barry Eisaman of Eisaman Equine, having worked there for 10 years. Several years ago, Davila saved up $5,000 and asked Eisaman’s wife, Shari, if she could buy him a yearling at Keeneland. She spent the $5,000 on a Stormin Fever colt, whom he would sell as a 2-year-old for $105,000. The following year he gave her $7,000 and she bought him another colt whom he would sell for $35,000; still a good return on his money. With two hefty profits, Davila decided to go to Keeneland himself two years ago and it was there he purchased I’ll Have Another for $11,000. He just liked the colt’s walk and the ground he covered. He broke him and turned him over him to Eisaman to prepare for the 2-year-old sale. Eisaman gave him about seven weeks of gate training and consigned him to the sale.

“I envisioned him as a nice useful horse,” said Eisaman, who watched the race from the Atlanta airport while changing planes heading to the Timonium sale. Davila watched the race at home with his family, and on Sunday was on the road driving to Timonium.

“I was so excited watching the race,” Davila said. “I can’t describe the feeling.”

Said Eisaman, “He’s overwhelmed by all the attention he’s getting. He’s gone from obscurity to someone people in the industry will recognize.”

At the sale, the colt caught the astute eye of Dennis O’Neill, who felt he’d sell for much higher.

“He breezed in :10 2/5 and they usually have to breeze in :09 4/5 or :10 flat to be expensive,” Dennis said. “But he had a beautiful way of going, and definitely looked like he wanted to go long. He was weak behind and a little straight up, and you could pick on some things, but I know by now what Doug can put up with and what he can’t. I thought he’d go for $60,000 to $80,000 and was surprised we got him for $35,000.”

Dennis has been in remission for several years after battling cancer. "I've been through a lot," he said. "Going through what I went through makes me appreciate this a little more and appreciate your family. You can say anything you like about Doug, but he's the nicest, most caring person I know in the world. I never would have made what I've been through without him. It's great to celebrate this with him."

Doug, who is five years younger than Dennis, named his son after another brother, Danny, who died of melanoma at age 37. One of Doug's most memorable moments at Churchill Downs was putting an 11-year-old girl known only as Hope aboard Lava Man and letting her sit atop the great horse, now a stable pony. Hope was brought to Churchill through the Make a Wish Foundation. Suffering from a terminal illness, her wish was to go to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. After Doug lifted her from her wheelchair and put her on Lava Man, he asked her, "Have you ever sat on five million dollars before?" At the post-Derby press conference, Hope was brought up to join Doug, Dennis, Reddam, and Gutierrez and received a warm round of applause.

One of the reasons why Reddam and ONeill have formed such a close and successful relationship is that they pick each other’s brain and offer suggestions and indulge in friendly debates as to what is best for a horse.

When I’ll Have Another was nearing his 3-year-old debut, having fully recovered from his shin problems suffered in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), O’Neill came up with the “brain surgeon idea” of sprinting him in an allowance race on the Santa Anita downhill turf course. He told Reddam of his idea while having dinner with him and Zillah, and Reddam promptly asked him if he had been drinking.

“You guys have been telling me how good this horse is, why wouldn’t you think about the Bob Lewis?” Reddam asked.

With the Lewis now the target, there was the question of who to get to ride. They knew they’d never get Joel Rosario, who was Creative Cause’s rider, or Rafael Bejarano, who was riding Bob Baffert’s best 3-year-olds. Reddam just happened to be watching a particular race won by this unknown rider named Mario Gutierrez and liked what he saw.

“This kid looks good on a horse,” Reddam told O’Neill. “Let’s try some new blood and give him a shot.”

Gutierrez, a native of Vera Cruz, had come to Del Mar from Hastings Park three years ago to see if he could get some mounts. He had no agent when he arrived and didn’t get a single mount, so he went back home to British Columbia. But he was determined to try to make it and returned, hiring 85-year-old Ivan Puhich as his agent.

“He’s a real Cinderella story, to come to Santa Anita from Hastings Park with no agent,” Reddam said. “I watched him ride and I liked the way he sat on a horse. That’s when I mentioned to Doug about riding him in the Lewis. Doug had never met the kid, and he suggested we have him work I’ll Have Another, and this way he could meet him and see how he gets along with the horse.”

After working him, Gutierrez left the barn feeling both exhilaration and disappointment. He turned to Puhich and said, “That is a real good horse. There’s no way they’re going to let me ride him.”

But he didn’t know Reddam, who has never been afraid to step out of the box and do something different. And so it was that Gutierrez became the rider of I’ll Have Another. He gave the colt a flawless ride in the Lewis, springing a 43-1 upset.

Many felt that was a fluke race, with the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) winner, Liaison, clipping heels and throwing his rider after already appearing to be beaten, and CashCall runner-up Rousing Sermon finishing a lackluster fourth. Ironically, the CashCall Futurity is sponsored by Reddam’s lending company.

Because I’ll Have Another received such a fast speed figure in the Lewis, O’Neill decided to pass up the San Felipe (gr. II) and train him up to the Santa Anita Derby off an eight-week layoff. In between he worked him long and fast, in much the same manner as Charlie Whittingham, of whom he was in awe when he first started training. Ironically, O’Neill would become the first trainer to win the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby since Whittingham did it with Sunday Silence in 1989.

Leading up to the Santa Anita Derby, Reddam was having trouble sleeping. Did he have a Kentucky Derby horse or didn’t he?

What really impressed him and boosted his confidence was that the day before the race, Gutierrez watched the tapes of all nine starters on his own, without anyone telling him to do it. Unlike the Lewis, I’ll Have Another was tested by the 2011 Norfolk (gr. I) winner Creative Cause and outgamed him to win by nose in front of six busloads of Reddam’s employees and friends. Reddam had designated one of the busses as the drunken bus, but by the time they arrived at the track, they were pretty much all drunken busses, with everyone chanting “Cash Call!” The winner’s circle was so packed they could barely get the horse in.

“With all the yelling and screaming, he didn’t turn a hair,” Reddam said. “I don’t know what the race took out of him, but a dogfight like this was a good experience for him.”

Having survived a dogfight and a rambunctious crowd, I’ll Have Another was officially ready for the Kentucky Derby.

Shortly before leaving for Kentucky, he made the headlines by being placed on the vet’s list in California after undergoing extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) on his back, which tightened up after his latest work.

"It's just a pulse that brings blood to an area," Reddam said at the time. "The horse has absolutely nothing wrong with him. Doug just did it because he could do it, and his owner will pay for it. He's just leaving no stone unturned. In California, you can't use it within 10 days of an upcoming race, so you have to report it and go on the vet’s list.”

When I’ll Have Another arrived at Churchill Downs, he looked fantastic coming off the van; his coat in resplendent condition. On the Wednesday before the race, Reddam and Zillah were late getting to the draw, and were in the Churchill Downs parking lot when I’ll Have Another drew the 19-post. They learned of their fate from O’Neill’s text.

“It is what it is,” Reddam said. “But we have two stone closers inside of us and one outside, so we should be able to save some ground.”

It became apparent the colt loved the track, motoring around there every morning in what looked to be a two-minute lick. The morning before the race he came barreling around the turn, close to the rail, in a gallop that was awfully close to a work.

Most of the talk at Churchill Downs surrounded Union Rags and his owner Phyllis Wyeth and trainer Michael Matz, and also Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Bodemeister, named by owner Ahmed Zayat after Bob Baffert’s son Bode. Five weeks earlier, Baffert suffered a heart attack in Dubai and had to have three stents inserted to unblock an artery. Also, there was Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) winner Dullahan, trained by the popular Dale Romans, who grew up just about a mile from Churchill and now trains out of the same barn he once worked in for his father, who maintained a claiming stable for many years.

“This one isn’t about the money,” Romans said. “This one is emotional. If we win you’re probably going to see some tears.”

A good deal of focus was on the flamboyant Dr. Kendall Hansen, majority owner of last year’s champion 2-year-old Hansen, who like Union Rags, Creative Cause, and Dullahan, was one of eight starters from the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to run in the Derby. Dr. Hansen had a bevy of beauties, wearing blue costumes with a blue tail, accompanying him all day giving out Hansen dolls. There also was the return of last year’s winning team of Team Valor, trainer Graham Motion, and jockey John Velazquez, who had the improving Spiral (gr. II) winner Went the Day Well.

One of the main attractions at Churchill since Tuesday was the presence of the great Lava Man, who is now a pony for O’Neill and who accompanied I’ll Have Another to the track. Each day after training, they would remove his bridle and Lava Man would walk on his own over to the feed bags in the shedrow, decide which ones he wanted, and proceed to have his breakfast. At home at Hollywood Park, he eats out of the feed bins, and if they’re closed he opens them with his nose. If he doesn’t care for one he’ll move on to the next one.”

Derby morning brought the tail end of heavy rains, accompanied by thunder and lightning, which would dissipate by 6 a.m. Matz was in the recreation room getting coffee and was befuddled by the ninth-place finish by And Why Not in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). He was hoping that was not a sign of things to come. Baffert arrived early to check out the track, but didn’t realize it had been closed for training due to the weather. “If I had known that I wouldn’t have gotten up so early,” he said.

Blacksmith Steve Norman was a busy man, making some last-minute adjustments to Creative Cause’s glue-on shoes and putting new shoes on Gemologist and El Padrino.

As post time for the Derby neared, spirits were high at Barn 3. Reddam talked about I’ll Have Another’s aggressive gallops.

“Doug wanted to take the horse out this morning and gallop him,” Reddam said. “He galloped him the day of the Santa Anita Derby. I told him, ‘You know, Doug, why don’t you leave a little in the tank? You’ve been whipping him around there, practically breezing the horse every day.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t want to interrupt his routine.’ I told him, ‘Well, you’re the trainer, but if you just walk him this morning that really wouldn’t bother me.’ And then it started raining and I’m going ‘Yes!’”

Dennis O’Neill also brought out his dry humor, saying he was confident in the horse, but “I don’t think an O’Neill can win the Derby. O’Neills are not supposed to win the Kentucky Derby.”

Finally, it was post time, with Bodemeister getting a lot of late action to go off as the 4-1 favorite, with Union Rags second choice at 5-1. The only other horse in single digits was Gemologist at 8-1. I’ll Have Another was a generous 15-1, considering he was unbeaten this year and winner of the Santa Anita Derby. But he did have the 19-post. “I also think part of that is riding a no-name jockey,” Reddam said.

At the start, Union Rags was bumped and squeezed back by Kent Desormeaux on Dullahan on his outside and Calvin Borel on Take Charge Indy on his inside, reminiscent of Lookin at Lucky in 2010. After an eighth of a mile he was already back in 18th and pretty much out of it.

Meanwhile, Bodemeister, the inside speed, outran Trinniberg and Hansen, who was in traffic between Daddy Long Legs and Gemologist. I’ll Have Another, just as Reddam had hoped, cleared the two closers, Sabercat and Done Talking, and as others peeled off, he found himself only three wide and right behind Gemologist. As they headed into the first turn, the opening quarter in a rapid :22.32, I’ll Have Another remarkably was all by himself, with only Take Charge Indy several paths inside him on the rail.

Down the backstretch, Bodemeister established a clear lead, dogged by Trinniberg, with Hansen now in the clear in third. They hit the half in a blistering :45.39, which in fifths of a second was tied for the second fastest in Derby history. I’ll Have Another was a length behind Hansen and still in excellent position, with Gemologist well clear of him on his outside and Take Charge Indy well clear of him on his inside.

As they headed toward the far turn, Trinniberg pulled up to Bodemeister’s flank, but he soon began his retreat, leaving Bodemeister with a clear lead through a torrid three-quarters in 1:09.80, fourth fastest in Derby history. As he began to open up on the field, it looked as if he was going to pull off a Spend a Buck-like victory and forever put Apollo's ghost to rest after 130 years. A horse finally was about to win the Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old.

Creative Cause was the first of the mid-pack horses to emerge on the scene, but was six-wide around the turn, losing way too much ground. Desormeaux moved Dullahan up into contention and then swung colt way to the outside of Creative Cause in no man’s land. Although it probably seemed liked the right move to make under the circumstances, had he stayed where he was he would have had a clear path right behind the winner. To make matters worse, I’ll Have Another blew the turn into the stretch, carrying Creative Cause well out to the middle of the track, which in turn carried Dullahan some 10-wide. The only thing out that far other than Dullahan were the puddles of water still on the track, which had been labeled fast all day.

Into the stretch, after a mile in 1:35.19, Bodemeister looked to be home free, opening up a three-length lead. But as he began to shorten stride, I’ll Have Another, who had straightened himself out and was now back down in the four-path, was closing in fast, charging past Hansen. Dullahan also was rallying, but had conceded way too much ground and was closer to the photographers on the outside rail than he was to Bodemeister. Creative Cause had a clear run at the leader, despite being carried wide, but didn’t have enough punch in the final furlong.

Gutierrez went to several right-handed whips and finally was able to get the better of a game Bodemeister with about 70 yards to go, and then quickly drew clear. Dullahan continued to close, but just missed catching Bodemeister by a neck for second. Went the Day Well rallied late, nailing Creative Cause for fourth. The first five finishers were separated by only three lengths, with a four-length gap between fifth and Liaison in sixth. Union Rags, despite the bad start and encountering traffic on the far turn, finished a respectable seventh and returned as if he hadn’t run at all. The final time for the 1 ¼ miles was 2:01.83.

O’Neill proceeded to give bear hugs to just about anyone who came up to congratulate him. Reddam’s grin and twinkle had grown larger as he attempted to soak in what had just happened.

“This is unbelievable,” he said. “I know everyone says that, but it is unbelievable. We stayed quiet and took the heat off us. Mario is so cool. He doesn’t even know what just happened, I can guarantee you. He was joking around before he got on the horse.”

As for O’Neill’s training job, Reddam said. “That was a training legend you saw today. Doug showed a lot of guts the way he trained him.”

The race was a was a tough defeat for Bodemeister, who ran an incredible race coming back in only three weeks after his brilliant victory in the Arkansas Derby, but Baffert was extremely proud of him and said it was the only time he’s finished second where he’s been happy, because the colt ran his race. It was also another tough Derby experience for Zayat, who has now finished second in three of the last four Kentucky Derbys, and in the other year, he lost the overwhelming favorite, Eskendereya, to injury shortly before the race.

Although Zayat was hurting inside, he kept his feelings in check when he saw how the defeat affected his son Justin, who has become his right-hand man, and 7-year-old Bode Baffert, for whom Bodemeister was named. Zayat took great satisfaction in knowing that Bodemeister had turned in a herculean effort and has a sensational career ahead of him.

Romans said Dullahan’s terrible trip and ultimate defeat was “a tough pill to swallow,” but he, like Baffert and Zayat, did not place any blame on the jockey. Romans felt that Dullahan was the best horse in the race, considering his ground loss and explosive finish.

British born Jack Sisterson, assistant trainer to O’Neill, said there were words coming out of his mouth after the race, but he had no idea what he was saying. His cell phone vibrated with so many text messages, it was a constant vibration, registering 93 messages in a 30-second span. The most special one was from his parents back in England, saying, “We’re so proud you. Savor the moment.”

Saturday night, as a rare “super moon” shone down on Louisville, I’ll Have Another calmly posed for pictures with dozens of people wanting to get close up to a Derby winner. After his photo session, the colt buried his head in his feed tub.

Doug and Dennis returned from the party at the Kentucky Derby Museum to a chorus of cheers and then Doug joined in a group photo outside the barn, with everyone chanting “I’ll Have Another!”

Dennis walked up to the colt’s stall and simply said, “You won the Derby, buddy.” Doug said was afraid he was going to wake up the following morning to discover that he had actually won a $10,000 claimer, proving once again that the Kentucky Derby treads a fine line between fantasy and reality.

Reddam believed all along this was all about karma, especially the decision to put Gutierrez up on the horse.

“I felt this was just going to happen,” he said. “And, poof, it happened.”

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