Saturday, May 5, 2012

I'll Have Another Gallops to Kentucky Derby Victory

Twenty colts paraded before the largest crowd to ever gather beneath the famous Twin Spires of Churchill Downs as the chords of “My Old Kentucky Home” struck up, sending chills down the spines of racing enthusiasts as emotions ran wild. The jockeys aboard the talented Thoroughbreds focused on the powerful creatures beneath them and the race they were about to contest in together as watchful trainers and owners focused on their steeds. As millions tuned into their televisions, 165,307 people gathered at the illustrious Louisville track as the graceful frames of the three-year-old Thoroughbreds glided into the starting gate, their hooves resting upon the Downs’ main track as their young eyes gazed across the expanse of dirt in front of them.

The twenty horses that were lined up at the top of the stretch formed one of the toughest fields seen in the past several installments of the race, and the record crowd cheered them on deafeningly, their stomachs churning in anticipation for the commencement of the greatest horse race on the planet. Suddenly, the gates flew open and onto the track sprang twenty talented, beautifully bred, and imposing Thoroughbreds as the announcer cried, “And they’re off in the Kentucky Derby!”

The night before, an inch of rain had fallen upon Churchill Downs. However, the dirt track was left fast – very fast, in fact. Earlier in the day, a track record had been set and, in two races, the winners had completed final times that were 1.13 seconds and .56 seconds off the track record. This proved true when Bodemeister set the fifth fastest fractions ever in the Kentucky Derby.

I’ll Have Another broke extremely well from post nineteen, gliding over closer to the rail to run three-wide around the first turn. As Bodemeister set blistering fractions on the front end, I’ll Have Another settled beautifully in sixth, moving up through the center of the track down the backstretch without any asking. Around the far turn, I’ll Have Another was poised to fly on the outside. While Bodemeister drew away from the field on the rail, I’ll Have Another found his best stride and kicked in down the stretch, powering past Bodemeister to capture the race by 1 ½ lengths.

Meanwhile, the second-favorite, Union Rags, was squeezed at the start and was near the rear of the field as the horses charged into the first turn. He encountered trouble on the far turn as well, forcing Julien Leparoux to check. By then, the son of Dixie Union had too much to do and too much ground to make up. He closed well, but could finish no better than seventh.

Though some were surprised by I’ll Have Another’s victory in the Run for the Roses, I was not astonished in the least. The colt had even been ranked first on my Derby Top Ten at one point and been on that list ever since his win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) in February. In fact, he was among my top four picks in the Derby.

I’ll Have Another provided his connections with their first Kentucky Derby triumph. Owner J. Paul Reddam was presented with the Kentucky Derby trophy and lifted it victoriously into the air while twenty-five-year-old Mario Gutierrez held the garland of roses with trainer of Doug O’Neill, having won just his second grade one race (his first came with I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby) and his Kentucky Derby debut. O’Neill, a leading trainer in Southern California, was also clearly thrilled with his Derby victory, which was, of course, his first as well.

Notably, I’ll Have Another was ponied to the gate by Lava Man, the richest claimed horse in history who seven grade ones and was the only horse ever to win to capture grade ones on dirt, turf, and synthetic.

I’ll Have Another will now be pointed towards the Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico Racecourse, a race in which the colt will hope to continue his Triple Crown journey. However, he is likely to face a tough field, just like he did in the Derby. There’s Bodemeister – who ran a spectacular race in finishing second, Dullahan – who closed well to finish third, Went the Day Well – who rallied impressively to take fourth, and Union Rags – who, once clear, made a game rally in the Derby. It will not be an easy task, but I’ll Have Another, having now won three races in a row, will be full of confidence.

I have great respect for I’ll Have Another. The stunning chestnut son of the Travers Stakes (GI)-winning Flower Alley won a Kentucky Derby against one of the most competitive fields we’ve seen in years. His rally down the stretch was incredibly impressive and, after all, he is your one and only one hundred thirty-eighth Kentucky Derby winner. Congratulations to I’ll Have Another and his connections!

Since I’ll Have Another was one of my featured “Derby Hopefuls,” you can read more about him here.

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