Before I’ll Have Another’s achievements disappear into a cloud of Canadian nationalistic fervour leading up to the Belmont Stakes on June 9, let’s take a moment to find a little perspective here.
This actually could be far, far bigger than most twice-a-year fans of thoroughbred racing might understand.
Only 11 horses have won the American Triple Crown since its official inception just under a century ago, the last being 1978 when Affirmed came home under jockey Steve Cauthen, who himself wasn’t old enough to drink in most states.
Just a year before that, Jean Cruguet pulled it off with Seattle Slew.
And in 1973, the greatest of all, Secretariat, broke three track records on the way to taking the Belmont by 31 lengths for Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, and his Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin.
Since then, nothing.
There have been 11 horses since 1978 (and 21 overall) to make it through the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with a chance, but none have found glory.
I’ll Have Another, owned by Windsor, Ont., native J. Paul Reddam and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, who cut his teeth at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver for six years, thus has a chance to join an exclusive club that would make him one of the most famous horses in racing history.
The only thing that would make this better from a purely Canadian point of view, of course, would be if I’ll Have Another were purely, well, Canadian. He isn’t.
This light chestnut colt was dropped by his dam, Arch’s Gal Edith, in the spring foaling of 2009, landing on the blue grass of Kentucky.
I’ll Have Another not eligible for Queen’s Plate
So, the horse isn’t eligible to run in the Queen’s Plate, for example, because it’s only for Canadian-bred animals. That’s alright, however, because there’s enough maple syrup in this story to keep everyone north of the border happy.
Reddam may have lived in California for 33 years, but he started watching the standardbreds at Windsor Raceway as a boy and then, while getting his post-grad at the University of Toronto, down at the old Greenwood.
He still calls himself a Canadian (did so at the trophy presentation in Baltimore on Saturday).
Jockey Gutierrez was born and raised in Mexico, began racing quarterhorses (the ultimate sprinters) and then came to Vancouver to settle in at Hastings for five years, a second level track where he was top rider twice.
Now he’s riding at Santa Anita, where Sandy Hawley, the Oshawa, Ont., plumber who became Canada’s greatest jockey, was a star. But on Saturday, he happened to mention going home, to Vancouver.
Journos have even dug up the fact the horse’s masseuse, Larry Jones, is from Stettler, Alta., and once, can you believe it, played for the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Junior Hockey League.
Let’s go Maple Leaf.
We joke. It’s fabulous a Canadian-owned horse can make history, just as his great, great, great, great grandfather, Northern Dancer, almost did in 1964, when he came third at the Belmont to Quadrangle, came home to win the Queen’s Plate and then retired to the greatest stud career in North American history.
Chance at history
But what I’ll Have Another is trying to do is so much larger than just carrying Canadian hopes. Horse racing isn’t as big, certainly, as it was in the pre-Power Ball, casinos-for-anyone-who-might-buy-a-few-votes time when the only place you could legally gamble was at the track.
Winning a Triple Crown, however, will still make the light chestnut with the Secretariat-like star and stripe on his forehead into something larger than just an athlete with Canadian connections doing something many others have done many times.
It will make I’ll Have Another a transcendental equine star, his jockey a big-time name, and put J. Paul Reddam, of Windsor, Ont., into the record books forever.