Haskin's Preakness Report: Jack of All Trades

Jack Sisterson looked out the plane window as he approached Louisville Airport in 2002 and saw his life unfold right before him. The native of Durham, England, who grew up with horses, as a jockey and show jump rider, had been offered a soccer scholarship by the University of Louisville and was looking forward to fulfilling his dream of moving to America and getting a free education, playing soccer, and working with horses.

“I looked down and there was Churchill Downs, and there was the university, and it was a no brainer," Sisterson said. "I didn’t have to see what the campus looked like. All I knew was that it was close to Churchill Downs and that was it.”

Now here he was 10 years later, seeing Churchill Downs from a different perspective – standing in the winner’s circle of the Kentucky Derby.

Sisterson, assistant trainer for Doug O’Neill, had been at Churchill for two weeks, preparing Barn 3 for the arrival of Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) winner I’ll Have Another. He was thrilled just to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby with a legitimate shot.

When I’ll Have Another crossed the finish line 1 ½ lengths ahead of Bodemeister, Sisterson, watching from the tunnel to the paddock, rushed to the rail where he waited anxiously to charge onto the track.

“Words were coming out of my mouth and I had no idea what I saying,” he said the morning after the Derby. “It was absolutely crazy. I don’t think there are any words that can describe the feeling. All I kept thinking was, ‘Wow, is this real?’ I actually got a little teary eyed. After the race I had 93 text messages in 30 seconds. I had my phone on vibrator and it was just one continuous vibration.”

Among those who texted him were his parents, who have supported him in all his endeavors. They had gone to Ladbrokes to get a fixed price on the horse.

“They said, ‘We’re so proud of you, Jack. Well done. Just savor the moment,’” Sisterson said. “Without my parents I wouldn’t be in this position. I owe a lot to them. To have this happen is a dream come true.”

"Coming to the barn this morning, it really hasn’t sunk in yet. How many foals are born each year and how many of them point specifically for this race? You have people who spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to get a Kentucky Derby winner, and Dennis (O’Neill’s brother) finds this horse for $35,000. He has a remarkable way of finding young talent.
 
“Doug has done a fantastic job with this horse. When he won the Lewis and it was decided to give him the two months to the Santa Anita Derby, Doug knew he would have him peaking at the right time. And he’s only going to improve off the Derby.”

Sisterson originally had hoped to be a jockey, but got too big and eventually turned to show jumping and exercising horses.

“I’d sit on the arm of my couch and pretend to be riding races,” he said. “Horses were in my blood, and if I couldn’t be a jockey I wanted to eventually become a trainer; as long as I was hands-on with the horses. I played soccer for a professional club in England, but got released. I had a few schools interested in me to play soccer and then was offered the scholarship by the University of Louisville. I played soccer there and also kicked for the football team.”

After graduating, he began to steadily work his way into racing, doing summer work for Todd Pletcher and some work for a bloodstock company before getting a job with trainer Eddie Kenneally. While with Kenneally, he went to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in 2009 with BC Juvenile starter Aspire and fell in love with Southern California.

“I thought California was brilliant and I’ve been there ever since,” Sisterson said. “I was at Hollywood Park when I took notice of (owner and entrepreneur) Mark Verge’s bright red silks, with the logo “For Rent” on them. I thought, ‘I’ve got to look this man up.’ I went on the internet and saw that he owned hotels and restaurants and Westside Rentals (the largest apartment and home finding service in L.A. and Orange County), which is where the words on his silks came from. I sent him an e-mail and asked if I could possibly meet him, because I knew he was involved with horses. The next morning, I received a reply at 5 o’clock in the morning telling me to call him. I wound up going to his office and having coffee with him and kept going back, always asking him questions. How many people in his position are going to take in a perfect stranger who asks to meet him?

“He introduced me to Doug and here I am now. Doug has been so great at accommodating the public to come to the barn and see how we do things. It’s an open door policy at the barn. I’ve learned so much from Mark and Doug, not only about racing, but about life. Doug believes in keeping spirits high, because he’s convinced it rubs off on the horses. We get our job done, but we like to have fun. That’s what the game is all about.”

Verge went on to be named CEO of Santa Anita this past March, and was at O’Neill’s barn before the Derby, joining in the walkover, and afterward celebrating the victory of I’ll Have Another, which also was a victory for Santa Anita and Southern California.

As for I’ll Have Another, Sisterson said he’s “very straightforward and easy going. At Churchill, he got over the ground so beautifully it looked like he’d been stabled there the whole time. That’s something you want to see in a horse, how he gets over the ground. If he doesn’t get over it well it’s game over. He’d go out there and come back bucking and squealing. We thought at that point, maybe he really does have a chance. And he continued to train that way. Then his gallop on Friday morning sent shivers down the spine. We were in the temporary bleachers when he went by and we just looked at each other and there was no need for any words to come out. We knew without saying anything how good he was going into the race.”

So, now Sisterson’s unlikely journey continues on to Baltimore. If I’ll Have Another runs the way he did in Kentucky, Sisterson once again will be feeling those good vibrations.

16 Comments

Leave a Comment:

txhorsefan

Wow.  That is just so cool to learn, Steve.  Thank you for telling us another part of the story on our Kentucky Derby champion and his connections.  You are able to capture the enthusiasm shown by this young man and apparently it shows up for the horse also.  Thank you!  It is  such a treat to be able to have more of your writing during this triple crown trail!!  

13 May 2012 8:12 PM
Katherine

I have been busy lurking on your blog..and haven't commented but I can't hold myself back anymore..your writing is just too wonderful. I put Union Rags and I'll Have Another in my virtual stable. I love both of these horses. This may be THE year. I'll Have Another reminds me of Secretariat, I hope he can fulfill the promise. Keep up the great work and I'll keep pounding the refresh button on my computer!

PS..Zookeeper, are you out there?

13 May 2012 10:23 PM
Lexington Bloodstock

Great story.  This horse is surrounded by good stories.  It's a shame the national press is only focusing on the negative.

13 May 2012 10:50 PM
The Deacon

The Preakness is I'll Have Another's to lose. Many defections from the Derby, the Belmont will be stacked though.

Very nice story Mr. Haskin..........

14 May 2012 2:21 AM
TBDancer

I love your "back stories," Steve, and this is no different. My feeling about IHA is that this horse does have the ability to "cover the ground" and we may be looking at a "come from behind" Triple Crown winner--at least one with a very good chance. He has a very workmanlike and talented jockey, as well. Have always loved Flower Alley, too.

14 May 2012 8:25 AM
Coldfacts

There is another historic story about I’ll Have Another that many might consider insignificant. I have compiled a comprehensive set of records on the Raise A Native/Mr. Prospector sire line. I have often regarded this sire line as the greatest force in Triple Crown history much to the annoyance of others. I’ll Have Another hails from the aforementioned sire line. Mr. Prospector has been the most dominant extension of Raise A Native. Below is a summation of Triple Crown records of four generations of Mr. Prospector stallions:

Sons: Derby (3) Preakness (5) Belmont (5).

Grandsons: Derby (5) Preakness (6) Belmont (6)

Great Grandsons: Derby (0) Preakness (0) Belmont (1)

Great, Great Grandsons: Derby (2) Preakness (0) Belmont (1)

Obviously the above information can be manipulated to suite any desired conclusion. How does this relate to I’ll Have Another? How did it relate to Bodemeister? Well, let’s start with the Bodster. He was sire by a Great Grandsons of Mr. Prospector. The above summation reflects this category to be the least productive generation for the great stallion with only one victory out of 34. In spite of Bodemeister brilliance he could not hold on for the second victory for this category. I’ll Have Another was sired Great, Great Grandsons of Mr. Prospector and this category similar to the one that precedes it is without a Preakness winner. Mine That Bird came close but the RA was better.

So what do we have?  A representative from the most dominant force in Triple Crown history will be trying to make a breakthrough for the 4th generation stallion category. The ultra talented Bodemeister was denied a Derby breakthrough for the least productive 3rd generation; why shouldn’t I’ll Have Another suffer a similar faith? It’s quite possible. The last four horses from the Mr. Prospector sire line that won the first two legs of the TC i.e., Real Quiet, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones were sired by stallion falling into categories one and two. (Son/Grandsons) Can I’ll Have Another clear this historic hurdle? He has all the credentials but history usually finds a way to make certain occurrences far more difficult than is recognized. Ask Bodemeister about his Apollo equaling attempt.

Why does the categories containing the sons and grandsons of Mr. Prospector more dominant that the other? I have some ideas that are not worth mentioning.

Fellow contributor Slew is very critical of these conclusion supported with tailored facts and rightfully so. Just because something has not occurred it does not mean it will not. How can one rebut that? The above is not suggesting that certain results cannot be achieved but the likelihood is either remote or highly unlikely in most cases.  I’ll Have Another will be facing some same cast from the Derby and fresh talented horses as well. All Derby the participants are returning to the races in 14 days and this is unknown territory for them. Some will perform other will not. The Empire Maker sired PoineerOf A Nile was a fighting second in the Derby and worked 47 leading up to the Preakness and never hit the board. However, the easy Derby winner Mine That Bird flew home for second to the even easier Oak winner RA. Both Oaks and Derby winners had easy victories. How much did the Derby take out of IHA? No one would conclude his victory was easy.

14 May 2012 10:40 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

Thank you Dr Hansen. That is such good news that Hansen will be running in the 7f Woody Stephens on June 9th instead. Just perfect. That race will be a joy. Can't wait.

14 May 2012 1:24 PM
THEHOLZ

BODE WILL JOG ON THIS FIELD. WATCH OUT FOR WENT THE DAY WELL FOR 2ND. HE IS COMING ON. STILL CANT BELIEVE MIKE SMITH HAD TO GO 109:4 . SEATTLE SLEW WENT SLOWER IN GOING 110:4. IF BODE GOES A SECOND SLOWER HE WINS THE DERBY. I KNOW BAFFERT WANTED TO WIN THAT RACE MORE THEN ANY RACE IN HIS LIFE. HORSE NAMED AFTER HIS SON- YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING. WILL REDEEM HIMSELF IN THE PREAKNESS. SHAME THE STORY DIDN'T GO AS PLANNED BECAUSE OF STUPID MIKE SMITH.

14 May 2012 4:15 PM
zarvona

Preakness Weather Report.

Sunny low 80's.

14 May 2012 5:11 PM
opsherr

I'e been waiting for a word on Hansen and my prayer was answered today. His connections made the right decision, absoutely! The thin, drawn up and washed out horse I saw in the Derby screaming to his people and finally someone noticed. Many victories to you beautiful boy.

Bodemeister, race on! You were the best conditioned horse in the Derby. My hat's off to you Mr. Baffert.

14 May 2012 8:50 PM
taxistan

I'm overjoyed!!  More magic from Mr. Haskin.

15 May 2012 12:22 AM
predict

Now in the West there was a man..

His name was Jack, Jack Sisterson..

Great story Steve!

Passion is an amazing floatation device. Jack's passion is undeniable. I hope it floats him and I'll Have Another right into the winner's circle at Pimlico.

15 May 2012 12:46 AM
Greg R

If Mike Smith were "stupid," he would never have become the accomplished and respected jockey he has been for decades.  So come on, debate his ride in the Derby, but please don't call Gentleman Mike Smith "stupid."

Meanwhile, congratulations to Sisterson along with the more celebrated members of the team.  Has he reported any "shivers down the spine" gallops at Pimlico yet?

15 May 2012 1:17 AM
hank

Well here we are second jewel in triple crown, east coast track, and three best california horses are here, all figure to have a big part of outcome, good chance for your pick all year Creative Cause to reedem himself,  ,they come to race, not put tail between legs and go home,would be nice to see a trainer with  a n absolutely clean rap sheet win it not like other trainers here.especially O'Neil,Disgusted with Union Rags, he hasn't done enough running to warrant missing this race,Save hin for fall classics, I can't tell you who won laast years Travers much less any other but I can tell u who won all the triple crown races in fact after belmont I lose interest, Great article mr Haskins.

15 May 2012 8:36 AM
Criminal Type

Hank ? Stay Thirsty my friend. He won the Travers and Jim Dandy at Saratoga in 2011.

15 May 2012 6:24 PM
ksweatman9

I'd also like to applaud Dr. Hansen for his decision to do the best thing for his colt. The Derby has become a crap shoot with 20 horses stampeding out of the gates. The best horse doesn't always win, and Hansen's 9th place finish does not reflect what kind of horse he is, so don't be too discouraged, doc. Hansen is a fine thoroughbred and I'm confident he'll find his comfort zone and once again be a champion. The Derby fiasco takes alot out of a horse, so the rest will be welcomed by your pony. Again, kudos to you, Dr. Hansen!

15 May 2012 6:44 PM

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