LOUISVILLE, Ky. – At Churchill Downs, the alcohol flows copiously and continuously. Mint juleps, champagne and high-end beer lubricate the Kentucky Derby, and for a race run this year on Cinco de Mayo, it seems utterly appropriate that a horse apparently named for drinking to excess would win.
Only problem with that too-perfect scenario? The origins of Derby winner I'll Have Another's name are far more innocent.
J. Paul Reddam, the horse's owner, named him in honor of his wife's cookies – more specifically, his response every time she asks if he'd like one more cookie. It's optimism combined with satisfaction, and it's exactly what everyone associated with the horse is feeling.
Before a record crowd of more than 165,000, I'll Have Another ran down a favored and thoroughly dominant Bodemeister to cap an unlikely rise to racing's pinnacle. Bought for $11,000 in 2010 and $35,000 in 2011, the 15-1 shot brought the first-ever Derby win to Reddam, trainer Doug O'Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. He was also the first horse in the 138-year history of the Derby to win from the 19th post.
"To win a race like this you need a plan," Reddam said. "And since this winter, pretty much everything has gone according to plan."
O'Neill's brother, Dennis, spotted the then-two-year-old horse at a training sale in Ocala, Fla., in 2011. And while the horse wasn't the most heralded of that lot, it wasn't exactly Charlie Brown Christmas tree material either.
"Honestly, when he went through the ring, I said, 'This is a perfect horse,' " Dennis O'Neill said. "I thought he would be $60,000 or $80,000. When he went for 35, I was surprised.… He goes the same way now that he did then – a beautiful, long stride on him."
I'll Have Another paid immediate dividends after the purchase, defying 43-1 odds to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February at Santa Anita. Two months later at the same track, the horse took down the Santa Anita Derby, then rested for four weeks in preparation for the Derby.
The horse began the Derby in the 19th post, just one spot from the outside. But right from the start, Gutierrez knifed the horse into the pack and had him in the mix in sixth at the quarter-mile mark. He dropped back to 7th, 2½ lengths back, at the half-mile pole, but then steadily began a climb through the ranks.
"The horse broke perfectly," Doug O'Neill said. "Mario, by mid-stretch the first time around, just had great position."
In Bodemeister, I'll Have Another was chasing a horse that was posting astonishing splits, holding the lead through turn after turn. As the pack came into the straightaway, Bodemeister held a tenuous lead that grew shorter with every stride. In the final yards, Gutierrez knew that I'll Have Another had everything necessary to take out Bodemeister. He ended up winning by 1½ lengths in a respectable 2:01.83.
"He's such a professional horse," Gutierrez said of I'll Have Another. "He's a really calm horse.… As soon as you ask him, he throws everything on the race, and he didn't disappoint today."
We'll all have another helping of I'll Have Another in two weeks in the Preakness. Is he Triple Crown material? Even if he's not, he's already carved his team's name into Derby history. Everything else is a bonus.
"Somebody asked me earlier in the week what it would be like to win the Kentucky Derby," Dennis O'Neill said after the race. "I used Bubba Watson's quote when he won the Masters: I never dreamed this far. I never in a million years thought we could do this."
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