It played out as a perfectly-timed ride.
Jockey Mario Gutierrez followed the blueprint formed in his mind from intense research and preparation, and the result was a thrilling win by a neck over the gutsy Bodemeister in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
Much was made about I’ll Have Another’s “dream” trip in the Kentucky Derby, but his Preakness route was appropriately tailored for a different scenario.
The plan was to stay closer to Bodemeister, the obvious pace, and make a move in the stretch. Just before the race, while I’ll Have Another was being saddled in the paddock, Gutierrez asked trainer Doug O’Neill if he should press Bodemeister if he was getting far ahead early.
“I said, ‘Mario, you know the horse,’” O’Neill said. “Just ride him to the best of your ability, and he did just that.”
As expected, Bodemeister took it down a notch from his torrid Derby pace. He cruised in :23.79 and :47.68, compared to :22.32 and :45.39 at Churchill Downs. Creative Cause was close behind with I’ll Have Another in a perfect spot in fourth just outside of Pretension.
Creative Cause dropped back, leaving the two rivals to decide it in the final furlong. I’ll Have Another drifted twice, and Gutierrez had to straighten him out. The colt’s trademark late acceleration carried him past Bodemeister just before the wire.
“It wasn’t really until about 20 yards from the wire that I thought we were going to win,” said J. Paul Reddam, owner of I’ll Have Another.
Reddam has played a key role behind the scenes in the crucial preparation that’s led to his colt’s success.
Reddam said he spoke with legendary jockey Gary Stevens about the configuration of the Pimlico track. Stevens had superimposed the Churchill stretch over that of Pimlico’s, and the Baltimore track’s stretch appeared longer.
I’ll Have Another needed every inch of that straightaway.
“I kept thinking, ‘I hope this stretch is that long,’” Reddam said.
Reddam also encouraged O’Neill and Gutierrez to continue their habit of watching replays of previous races. They watched past Derbies at the Derby Museum before the Run for the Roses, and did the same with Preakness races in the Pimlico press box Friday.
Serious about his study, the jockey abandoned the masses that grew around him so he could concentrate.
“We had a little bit of a crowd, so I went home to my hotel room and I just watched it by myself,” Gutierrez said. “I like to watch the stuff on my own so I can focus better.”
The tradition will continue at Belmont Park, where I’ll Have Another will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. O’Neill said they’ve already talked with Richard Migliore, former jockey and current HRTV analyst.
“He mentioned walking the (Belmont) track,” O’Neill said. “He was talking about taking Mario out and walking around the track, because you can get lost out there. It's so big. You think you're at the 3/8th pole, and you're at the 5/8th pole.”
“I'm sure we will watch videos, get out there and get some experience.”