I’ll Have Another didn’t seem to have the goods to win the Kentucky Derby.
Sold as a yearling for a paltry $11,000, ridden by a rookie jockey hardly anyone knew and stuck in an outside post no horse had ever won from — not exactly a blueprint for success at Churchill Downs.
But with the finish line in sight, the chestnut colt overtook highly regarded Bodemeister in the final furlong Saturday to make a name for himself and rider Mario Gutierrez.
I’ll Have Another stormed out of post No. 19 — the first winner from there in 138 runnings of the Derby — and bided his time back in mid-pack while Bodemeister set a blistering pace on a hot, muggy afternoon.
”He’s an amazing horse. I kept telling everybody, from the first time I met him, I knew he was the one. I knew he was good,” Gutierrez said. ”I said in an interview, even if they allowed me to pick from the whole rest of the field, I would have stayed with him, 100 percent, no doubt about it.”
Gutierrez, making his Derby debut at 25, got his chance to ride I’ll Have Another after trainer Doug O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam just happened to see him win a race at Santa Anita in Southern California.
It was another chapter in his unusual route to the Derby winner’s circle. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a jockey, getting on quarterhorses in Veracruz, Mexico, at 14. After a stint in Canada, he eventually started getting noticed on the West Coast, especially after he won the Santa Anita Derby.
Still, he was largely a mystery to the record crowd of 165,307, who didn’t know 15-1 shot I’ll Have Another or the jockey had the right stuff until the 20-horse field turned for home. That’s when Gutierrez, who moved up between horses around the final turn, positioned his colt not far from the rail and set him down to run.
I’ll Have Another overhauled a tiring Bodemeister to win by 1-1/2 lengths. He returned $32.60 on a $2 win bet. He ran 1-1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 1.83 seconds.
Bodemeister, trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, was second as the 4-1 favorite. Dullahan was a neck back in third.
O’Neill didn’t waste any time vowing that I’ll Have Another will go on to the Preakness in two weeks.
”Maryland, here we come baby!” he said.
I’ll Have Another made his way to the starting gate accompanied by his stable pony, Lava Man, another cheap purchase turned into a career winner of more than $5 million by O’Neill. The trainer has made his name predominantly in Southern California, although he’s won three Breeders’ Cup races.
One of his best horses, Steviewonderboy, was the winter favorite for the 2006 Derby before being sidelined by injuries early that year.
A hot pace was anticipated from speedster Trinniberg, although surprisingly it was Bodemeister under jockey Mike Smith who blazed to the front and forced Trinniberg to take a backseat. In the late afternoon heat, Bodemeister set impossibly fast fractions. He ran the opening quarter-mile in 22.32 seconds and the half-mile in 45.39.
”I told Mike, `Look, if he breaks great and feels like running, we can win it,” said Baffert, who had a heart attack in Dubai five weeks ago. ”That’s the only time I’ve run second where I’ve been happy because he ran his race.”
Meanwhile, I’ll Have Another was comfortably galloping along behind the blazing speed. Gutierrez angled his colt clear on the final turn and took dead-aim at Bodemeister, who was clearly in front at the top of the stretch.
”I knew we were in trouble when I saw Doug’s horse coming,” said Smith, who won the Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo in 2005.
Went the Day Well finished fourth, followed by Creative Cause, Liaison, 5-1 second choice Union Rags, Rousing Sermon, Hansen, Daddy Nose Best and Optimizer.
Alpha was 12th, followed by El Padrino, Done Talking, Sabercat, 8-1 third choice Gemologist, Trinniberg, Prospective, Take Charge Indy and last-place Daddy Long Legs.