How far should a hardcore racing fan need to travel to be up close and personal with a flesh-and-blood Kentucky Derby winner? For anyone lingering anywhere near Kentucky, the answer is “not far,” since 14 of the 20 living Derby winners reside at a variety of farms and retirement facilities within a short drive of downtown Lexington.
Those 14 include Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify at Ashford Stud, Funny Cide and Go for Gin at the Kentucky Horse Park, and Silver Charm and War Emblem at Old Friends Equine.
Smarty Jones has been repatriated to his native Pennsylvania and stands his first season at Equistar Farm, located not far from Penn National, while Big Brown has become a familiar presence in Stillwater, N.Y., at Irish Hill & Dutchess Views Stallions.
The rest of the nation must be content with access to only four Derby winners living west of the Mississippi. Grindstone, now 26, and Giacomo, winner of the Derby in 2005, both have found a home at Oregon’s Oakhurst Farm in the Chehalem Valley, just southwest of Portland. Mine That Bird, who won his Derby at odds of 50-1, remains a New Mexico tourist attraction at the Double Eagle Ranch of co-owner Mark Allen near Roswell.
That leaves I’ll Have Another, who until recently was plying his stallion trade in Japan. Not any more. Last December, three days before Christmas, the 2012 Derby and Preakness winner took up residence at the Ballena Vista Farm of Don and Karen Cohn in San Diego County, about 30 miles due east of Del Mar.
There was no fanfare, no ticker tape, no speeches from local politicians welcoming the return of the all-American hero, whose four stakes wins without a loss six years ago were good enough to win an Eclipse Award as 3-year-old male champion. I’ll Have Another’s roll commenced with his 43-1 shock of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 4, 2012, which should be enough reason to pay attention to the race when it is renewed Saturday.
I’ll Have Another, who raced for Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill, had the distinction of never going off the betting favorite in any of his seven career starts. However, after beating the talented Bodemeister in both the Derby and the Preakness, I’ll Have Another was the popular choice to bag the first Triple Crown in 34 years until he was scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes with an ankle injury.
The chestnut colt was retired and sold to a Japanese farm, where he stood for six seasons before word got around that he might be for sale. Ballena Vista already had Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat and Preakness third Eddington in their stallion barn, so why not a horse who won them both?
“He had a little bit of a belly when he got here,” said farm manager Mike Jimenez as his assistant, Manuel “Charro” Piedra led I’ll Have Another into the afternoon sun. “We got the weight off him pretty easy, and he’s settled in real nice.
“Got a good personality, too, while he’s on the lip chain,” Jimenez added. “Take him off, though, and he gets to feeling pretty free.”
There’s no telling what kind of view I’ll Have Another had in the coastal farm country of south Hokkaido, but the scenery from his westward-facing Ballena Vista stall is unique among American stallions. In the distance, the rock-studded hills lacing the Ramona Valley frame Ballena Vista’s terraced 200 acres, on about 60 of which are grown a bounty of wine grapes that someday will be bottled in the farm’s own label.
Piedra led I’ll Have Another down a path to his generous, gradually sloping paddock, where next door neighbor Texas Ryano greeted the new shooter by charging the fenceline and tossing his white blaze. I’ll Have Another paid him little attention as he nibbled at the sparse winter grass.
On this quiet late January afternoon, Jimenez and his staff were dealing with the sleep deprivation of midnight foaling, an occupational hazard this time of year. Jimenez cut his teeth at the track as a swing groom for Charlie Whittingham in the days when the likes of Ferdinand and Hidden Light were part of his rounds.
“I once got thrown out of the stall by Ferdinand,” Jimenez said of the Derby winner and Horse of the Year. “I had him by the halter and he spun around. When I saw the open stall door I thought it was a good idea to just let go.”
I’ll Have Another had more than 100 winners in Japan, though none of them made Grade 1 headlines. His chances for success as a California stallion depend on regional trends that are not necessarily encouraging, although there is no doubting the caché of being the first Kentucky Derby winner to stand in the state since Foolish Pleasure ended his stud career at Kerr Stock Farm a quarter-century ago.
“He must have been a tough competitor the way he won some of his races,” Jimenez said, referring to I’ll Have Another’s victories in the Preakness, by a neck, and Santa Anita Derby, by a nose.
“And his record in Japan shows he gets runners and winners,” he added. “So you like to think that all he needs is a chance.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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