LOUISVILLE - I'll Have Another, purchased for $35,000 last year, proved to be worth infinitely more in staging a dramatic rally to overtake Bodemeister for a 1½-length victory Saturday in the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
The colt, named for owner J. Paul Reddam's typical response when his wife puts out cookies, will be toasted as the first 3-year-old to prevail after breaking from far outside in post 19 in a full field of 20.
I'll Have Another was masterfully ridden by Mario Gutierrez, 25, of Veracruz, Mexico. He was Canada's leading apprentice jockey before coming to the USA in 2005. He soon became part of an unlikely team when he joined Ivan Puhich, his 85-year-old agent, in search of a big horse.
They have one.
Gutierrez, the 42nd jockey to reach the winner's circle in his first Derby, said of his mount, "I know my horse was reaching every step of the way. I wasn't going to stop riding until I got past the wire."
Gutierrez said of his improbable triumph, "We all need an opportunity and great things can happen."
I'll Have Another paid $32.60 for a $2 wager to win, $13.80 to place and $9 to show.
Favored Bodemeister set a scintillating pace, clicking off the first quarter of a mile in 22 1/5 seconds, a half mile in 45 1/5 seconds and tearing through three-quarters of a mile in 1:09 4/5 seconds as jockey Mike Smith held on.
"He's such a free-running horse that I couldn't take that away from him. At the top of the stretch, I really thought we had it. But I knew we were in trouble when I saw Doug's horse coming," said Smith, referring to trainer Doug O'Neill.
Bodemeister's enormous effort caught up to them in the final strides of the mile-and-a-quarter classic to deny Bob Baffert a fourth Derby triumph. That would have placed him in a tie for second all time among trainers.
"The way he ran, I don't have any complaints other than he did not win," said Baffert, 59, who suffered a heart attack March 26 in Dubai while preparing a horse to compete there. "Usually I'm upset, but he showed the brilliance he has."
His exhausted Arkansas Derby champ held off late-running Dullahan by a neck. Dullahan was attempting to give his trainer, Dale Romans, his first Derby triumph. Romans grew up three miles from Churchill Downs.
In a testament to the strength of the 20-horse field, Breeders' Cup Juvenile and 2-year-old champ Hansen faded to ninth. Highly regarded Union Rags was pinched back at the start, forcing him back to 18th. His late kick left him a distant seventh.
The steamy afternoon belonged to I'll Have Another, who earned his fourth victory in six starts and extended his perfection this year to 3-for-3 for O'Neill in covering the distance in 2 minutes, 1.83 seconds.
"I can't explain how excited I am," O'Neill said. "I'm so jazzed."
The most prominent owners typically spend millions in pursuit of racing's grandest prize. But the son of Flower Alley again reminded Thoroughbred fans that champions can come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges when he was purchased for such a modest sum as a 2-year-old in training in Ocala, Fla.
Dennis O'Neill, who regularly purchases horses for his brother, said I'll Have Another did not produce a swift workout in advance of the auction and had some weakness in his hind quarters that needed work.
Dennis O'Neill saw far more good than bad, though, and said he was willing to bid as much as $80,000 for the son of Flower Alley. "He's got a beautiful leg and a big, long stride," he said.
The Derby attracted a record 165,307 fans, surpassing the mark of 164,858 set last year.
Doug O'Neill believes he has I'll Have Another primed to make a run at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The Kentucky-bred should still be quite fresh after having only two prep races, taking the Grade 2 Robert Lewis by 2¾ lengths the first time Gutierrez was aboard before they eked out a nose victory in the Santa Anita Derby.
O'Neill cannot wait to try to keep it rolling in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course on May 19.
"Southern California, baby, we're coming to Maryland!" he exclaimed.
By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY