I’ll Have Another wins Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On the morning of April 29, Churchill Downs got its first look at I’ll Have Another, who had shipped in from California a day earlier.

Though spectacular Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister was drawing most of the attention that morning by putting in his final serious breeze for the 138th Kentucky Derby, several spectators wondered who the chestnut streak was, the one galloping strong over the track.

A similar scenario played out Saturday, this time before a record crowd of 165,307 at the historic Louisville oval.

With Bodemeister appearing to have the stage to himself beneath the Twin Spires, the chestnut streak had heads snapping again as he galloped right on by into racing’s annals.

The next time I’ll Have Another goes onto a racetrack, his anonymity will be gone, replaced with the title of 2012 Kentucky Derby winner. That accolade was earned with a machine-like rally down the middle of the track as I’ll Have Another ate up Bodemeister’s 3-length lead in the stretch and kicked on past the 4-1 favorite late to win the first leg of the Triple Crown by 1 {-lengths over 19 rivals Saturday.

With his trainer Doug O’Neill straining to see above the crowd on the rail and then hurling himself into the air when he realized it was his colt making the charge, I’ll Have Another became the first Santa Anita Derby winner to take the roses since the legendary Sunday Silence in 1989.

The victory also gave O’Neill, owner J. Paul Reddam and upstart jockey Mario Gutierrez _ who was riding in his initial Kentucky Derby _ their first triumphs in any Triple Crown race.

“I don’t know how at this point anything could be bigger than the Kentucky Derby,” said Reddam, who had not entered a horse in the Derby since Great Hunter and Liquidity ran 13th and 14th in 2007. “We’re kind of a working-class group … we don’t come from the bluest of blood for horse racing. This horse matches that absolutely completely.

“We were confident the horse was going to run well.”

Other than a sixth-place finish in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in September, I’ll Have Another has run consistently well in his six-race career.

Though shin issues sidelined the colt for the remainder of his juvenile year, I’ll Have Another had already made his $35,000 price tag _ at the April 2011 Ocala Breeders’ Sales 2-year-olds in training auction _ look like a sound investment.

The long-bodied chestnut broke his maiden at first asking, and he was second to future fellow Derby contender Creative Cause in the Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar in August.

In his sophomore debut, I’ll Have Another stunned the field at odds of 43-1 to win the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 2} lengths at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 4. He proved that wasn’t a fluke when he came back to take the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 7, outfighting Creative Cause in late stretch to get up by a nose.

“How do you win the Santa Anita Derby and not be one of the top five choices?,” said O’Neill, marveling at the fact his charge was sent off at odds of 15-1 Saturday. “Since he’s come from California, he’s maintained that long beautiful stride.”

I’ll Have Another broke from post No. 19 Saturday and began an artful journey toward becoming a classic winner, and the first to take the Derby from post No. 19.

With front-runners Bodemeister, Trinniberg and juvenile champion Hansen all in the field, the pace was expected to be as hot as the day’s temperatures, which reached 80 degrees. Instead of sprint-specialist Trinniberg taking the lead as expected, it was the lightly raced Bodemeister who jumped out and was a length clear of Trinniberg down the backside as he ran through fractions of :22.32 for a quarter-mile and :45.39 for a half-mile.

“He was doing it easily. He was within himself,” said Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, trainer of Bodemeister. “He was being pressed but he’s a brilliant horse. He’d only run four times. I was really proud of him.”

As Bodemeister was trying to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old, I’ll Have Another was traveling about six back on the outside path, advancing between horses and moving past Take Charge Indy to his inside as the field hit the final turn.

With Trinniberg backing up and Hansen beginning his ultimate descent into ninth after rating in third, I’ll Have Another exploded three wide and took aim at the bay frame of Bodemeister, who looked as if he were home free at the head of the lane.

“He’s such a professional horse,” said the 25-year-old Gutierrez. “In the end he was just giving 100 percent. As soon as you ask him, he throws everything on a race.”

I’ll Have Another hit the wire in 2:01.83 for 1\ miles over a fast track with multiple Grade I winner Dullahan coming on late to grab third over Went the Day Well.

Bodemeister was stellar in defeat, but Grade I winners Union Rags and Gemologist were two of the day’s biggest disappointments, running seventh and 16th, respectively.

“(Jockey) Julien Leparoux said he just didn’t get a good break,” said Michael Matz, trainer of Union Rags.

“I had a beautiful trip,” said Javier Castellano, rider of previously unbeaten Gemologist. “I don’t know why he didn’t run his race today.”

In hindsight, I’ll Have Another had certainly shown the potential to turn in such a performance.

“He didn’t put up crazy high Beyer (speed) numbers, but when they win the way he did, we were super confident,” O’Neill said. “He’s such a beautiful talented colt. We’re going to Maryland (for the Preakness Stakes) baby!”

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