There’s no bigger race to win for a horse than the Kentucky Derby, and only one horse each year can claim that win. This year it was I’ll Have Another in a mild upset. He settled off the torrid pace, but out of trouble behind the lead speed.
Mario Gutierrez is incredibly raw so it was easy to expect little from the jockey, but he was the biggest surprise on the day. He masterfully swung his horse out after a mile, sensed the pace perfectly, tracked down Bodemeister in the deep stretch and pulled away to win by almost two lengths.
It was a far more mature, professional race than you would have expected from horse or rider. It was certainly not a fluke.
The colt broke his maiden in his first try last July, and then he was second behind Creative Cause in the Best Pal at Del Mar a month later. He next went to Saratoga to run in the Hopeful against top East Coast runners. That was likely as a prelude to a Breeders’ Cup appearance, but the race was a disappointing sixth and he took the rest of the fall off.
When he returned in February in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita, he was a forgotten horse who went off at 43-1. He won that one impressively, though, and moved into the elite picture on the West Coast.
He didn’t have enough earnings to make the Derby, but his connections took a risk and held him out of action until the Santa Anita Derby. He basically needed to win to get a ticket to Kentucky.
And win he did.
He eked out a nose win over a very game Creative Cause. Even with that win, though, he still wasn’t seen as the top West Coast horse heading into the Derby—or even the top horse out of the Santa Anita Derby.
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
This is a story right out of a Disney movie.
Gutierrez is a 25-year-old Mexican who had been riding in the minor leagues at Hastings Park in Vancouver. In the offseason of that circuit, he had tried his luck on the Southern California circuit.
Things had not gone well, though, and he was about to go back to Vancouver. He was working horses one morning when owner Paul Reddam saw him and decided to give him the mount in the Robert Lewis because the top riders were on horses seen to have a better chance.
Gutierrez won, was promised the Santa Anita Derby mount and decided to stay in California.
He had won just 14 races all year before the Kentucky Derby and should have been totally overwhelmed by the experience. He rode the race as well as any guy could have, though, and now he’s a Kentucky Derby champion who should have much fewer issues finding good mounts in the future.
The question now is how well he will handle being the hunted man in the Preakness instead of the guy that no one was paying attention to.
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
He’s one of the true characters of the sport—a guy who is easy to cheer for.
This is his first Triple Crown victory, but not his first taste of top 3-year-old action. He had the top 2-year-old of 2005—Stevie Wonderboy—but he was injured before the Derby. Square Eddie may also have been the Derby favorite if he hadn’t been injured. Great Hunter and Liquidity both ran in the 2007 Derby, but both disappointed.
O’Neill’s biggest horse was the older gelding Lava Man, who won more than a dozen graded stakes before retiring in 2010. He now works as a pony horse for O’Neill, and ponied I’ll Have Another in the post parade at the Derby.
His sire, Flower Alley, was not ready for the Triple Crown trail in 2005, but he matured later to win two of the biggest East Coast races of the summer in the Jim Dandy and the Travers.
He’s early in his stallion career, but I’ll Have Another is a very good start, and there are clear indications that his offspring will have strong stamina traits like he did. The Derby distance was clearly not an issue, and the Belmont should be within his capabilities if he gets there.
He won his maiden wire-to-wire, but he seems happier when settled just off the pace before making his move at the top of the stretch. That will likely be his approach in the Preakness, though he could be tested if Bodemeister decides to let it fly up front.
If I’ll Have Another is forced to chase him too soon, it could be a problem. He moved to the front earlier than ideal in the Best Pal and ran out of gas late.
2012 Preakness Stakes betting advice for I’ll Have Another
If all goes according to plans, then the Preakness should be a two-horse race.
Personally, I think that Bodemeister is the better horse, but this horse has proven that he is very legitimate and will be a factor as well.
He’ll be bet heavily—likely as the second choice—and deserves the attention. In my mind, a win isn’t the most likely scenario, but it would be far from a shock. He’ll factor into the stretch drive for sure.
Doc’s Sports is offering their Preakness Stakes picks for free this year on their website.