"I'd say Creative Cause was one of the best 2-year-olds in the country at that time, and at that point I was high on him," said Reddam.
On to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Hopeful on Sept. 5. A win and I'll Have Another would establish himself as an early top Kentucky Derby contender. But it wasn't to be. With Julien Leparoux aboard, I'll Have Another ran fifth over a sloppy track, came out of the race with sore shins, and was all but forgotten.
He was returned to California, and given five months to recover. Team O'Neill, though, needed a jockey. Reddam had seen a young rider named Mario Gutierrez, and was impressed with the way he handled himself in a race he had seen. He recommended him to O'Neill, and the trainer hired the 25-year-old from Mexico who had been riding at Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, before arriving in California for a go of it.
When he first climbed aboard I'll Have Another for a workout at Hollywood Park, Gutierrez was star-struck.
"I tried to compare him to horses I had ridden in the past, but I wasn't able to," he said. "He was so professional with the way he moves. He was like an expensive sports car with a lot of gears. Every time you switch gears to go faster, he'll just give it to you. Not many horses can do that."
I'll Have Another was ready to open his 3-year-old campaign, and was sent off at 43-1 odds in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. With Gutierrez up, the colt stalked the pace, then sprinted away at the top of the stretch for a huge upset.
"He had trained really well going into it, but it was his first time going two turns and first time off a five-month layoff," said Doug O'Neill. "That was really an incredible effort. And that's when we started thinking not only is he a stakes horse, but a Derby caliber horse. I think the Bob Lewis was the last sign. We said 'aha!' This is the real deal here."
He was correct. I'll Have Another proved the win was no fluke when he nosed out Creative Cause to win the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. The rest has been well documented.
Sent off at 15-1 in the Kentucky Derby, I'll Have Another and jockey sensation Gutierrez caught front-running Bodemeister in the final 100 yards and won by 1½ lengths. Two weeks later, he did it again, reeling in Bodemeister in the final strides and winning by a nose.
In the Belmont, I'll Have Another will be the favorite for the first time in his career.
If you listen to Eiasman, it would be wise not to best against him. In fact, he and his wife, along with Avila and his family, will be at Belmont Park on Saturday to see if the yearling they singled out in Lexington, can become racing's 12th Triple Crown champion.
"When he gets in a racing situation, he has what it takes," said Eiasman. "He's the guy you want batting in the ninth inning of the World Series with the game tied. He will not fold under pressure."
Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/rosenblattap
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.