Reddam Racing's I'll Have Another turned the Southern California three-year-old division upside down with a 43-1 shocker in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. The 3-2 favorite Liaison was beaten on the far turn, clipped heels in the stretch, and unseated rider Rafael Bejarano.
Making his first start since a remote sixth in the Grade 1 Hopeful on September 5, and his debut around two turns, I'll Have Another stormed past the front runner Isn't He Clever at the top of the stretch and drew off with authority by 2 3/4 lengths. Aside from fueling mutuels of $88.60, $35.80 and $12, he suddenly erupted onto the scene as a Kentucky Derby candidate.
The Doug O'Neill pupil zipped 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in a sparkling 1:40.84. His final time just missed the stakes record of 1:40.76 set by Crown of Thorns on the old Cushion Track surface in 2008, and ranks as the fastest Lewis ever on dirt.
"This is my biggest win," said jockey Mario Gutierrez, who has ridden principally in Canada and has won a couple of riding titles at Hastings Park. "It's a great thrill."
"He's an incredibly talented colt," O'Neill said, "and we decided to take a chance in here. We thought he could hit the board and we'd move forward, but he ran unbelievable. Mario gave him a great ride. He's always trained fantastic, but we never saw this coming to be honest with you. This is incredible.
"Paul (owner J. Paul Reddam) saw Mario ride about a month or so ago here and said, 'If we ever get in trouble, think about using that kid.' That's how that came up. Then he came over (to Hollywood Park) and worked the horse; he worked great and it couldn't have worked out any better.
"We just didn't want to get into a head and head crazy duel, not get caught up in a speed duel, and he did just that."
The Robert B. Lewis shaped up as the rubber match between Liaison and Rousing Sermon, the one-two finishers in both the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity and the Real Quiet last fall. Those wishing to oppose conventional wisdom tended to back Liaison's stablemate from the Bob Baffert barn, Sky Kingdom, who rebounded from a fourth in the CashCall to run away with a recent allowance.
Totally overlooked in the betting was I'll Have Another. The son of Flower Alley was a debut maiden winner at Hollywood last summer, and finished a solid second to Creative Cause in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar. I'll Have Another shipped East to Saratoga for the Hopeful, but never got going in the slop, and it was unclear how ready he would be off a five-month layoff for a stiff task in the Lewis.
I'll Have Another was well placed in second early, with Liaison just to his inside in third, as the pair tracked Isn't He Clever through an opening quarter in :23. Groovin' Solo sneaked up on the rail to make it three stalkers abreast through a half-mile in :46 3/5. Liaison was unable to maintain his position, and found himself retreating into fourth by the time the leader reached six furlongs in 1:10 2/5.
At the same time, I'll Have Another was moving beautifully to challenge, and rapidly pulled clear. Behind him, things were about to get hazardous. Isn't He Clever and Groovin' Solo kept on doggedly, ahead of Liaison, who was trying to get back involved while racing in a clear path between, and slightly behind, them. But Groovin' Solo floated inward, crossed into the path of Liaison, and caused the favorite to clip heels.
Meanwhile, Empire Way, who had been last early, rallied up the rail to finish second by 2 3/4 lengths. Groovin' Solo reported home third, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Rousing Sermon, but he was disqualified for his role in the mishap to Liaison.
"I thought the inside horse (Isn't He Clever) moved out," Victor Espinoza, Groovin' Solo's rider, contended. "I tried to help as much as I can. When another guy asks for help I move out as much as I can. There's nothing else I can do. I think he ran great."
The stewards promoted Rousing Sermon to third, Isn't He Clever to fourth, Sky Kingdom to fifth and Chips All In to sixth. Groovin' Solo was officially placed last, and Liaison did not finish after losing Bejarano. The jockey escaped serious injury, and Baffert told HRTV that Liaison appeared to be OK back at the barn.
"I had my hole when I saw two horses that split out," recapped Bejarano, who went on to ride subsequent races. "I had plenty of room in between horses. When I asked my horse to go, he was coming little by little, but the horse on the outside (Groovin' Solo) was lugging in a little bit. I started screaming to let him know I was there and he (Espinoza) tried to correct his horse, but at the same time when he corrected his horse, he was just coming in too much.
"The horse on the inside (Isn't He Clever, ridden by Corey Nakatani) didn't even give me a chance to check his horse, because he was coming out too. At least the outside horse (Groovin' Solo) tried to correct himself, but the other horse from the inside didn't do that. He just kept going and was coming out little by little, but he didn't even try to check his horse. That's why it felt so tight and I clipped heels. I ended up clipping heels with Victor's horse because Corey Nakatani's horse was coming out and it was enough to push me out. Other than that, I feel good. I'm just a little sore."
"This was a weird run race," Baffert said. "He (Liaison) was up there but he was a little fresh today. He got a little rank with him (Bejarano) and then he (Bejarano) was trying to get him to relax and get back but he just emptied out.
"He (Sky Kingdom) broke, and then he got shuffled again, and on this track you have to really ride the track a little bit. You've got to be up there close. I was disappointed in him, but once we go a mile and an eighth he'll be better. But this track is a little speedy. I thought he would run better than that."
I'll Have Another has now earned $184,000 from his 4-2-1-0 line. Bred by Harvey Clarke in Kentucky, he was a bargain $11,000 Keeneland September yearling. Dennis O'Neill, the trainer's brother, purchased him for $35,000 as a two-year-old in training at OBS in April.
"We bought him at the OBS in April of last year," Dennis O'Neill said, "and we've loved him since day one. He trained like a really good horse from day one, trained like a two-turn horse from day one. He came out of his Saratoga race with sore shins, so when we got him back going, Paul said to take our time with him.
"We paid $35,000 for him. It's great for Paul. Paul's put a lot of money in the game and this is fantastic for Paul."
Out of the winning Arch mare Arch's Gal Edith, I'll Have Another comes from the family of Grade 1 winners Roanoke and Into Mischief. He counts as his fifth dam the influential matron Patelin, ancestress of champion Pleasant Stage and such Grade 1 winners as A Phenomenon, Seattle Meteor, Pillaster and Class Play.
Doug O'Neill indicated that he would likely skip the next contest, the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 10, and await the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
"We'll look at the Santa Anita Derby if all goes well," the trainer said.