01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: I'll Have Another

photo by: Justin N. Lane

He won the Robert Lewis Stakes, but few believed. Even after he won the Santa Anita Derby, doubts remained, so much so that he was only the ninth choice among 20 in the Kentucky Derby. And even after winning that race, he will wasn’t favored in the Preakness.

Throughout his racing career, I’ll Have Another was always the underdog. Not tonight. Though he was never favored in his seven-race career, I’ll Have Another is the overwhelming favorite this evening to receive the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

I’ll Have Another won all four of his starts in 2012, including the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But his meteoric rise came to a crushing halt on the eve of the Belmont Stakes, when he was pulled out of the race with a tendon injury that necessitated his retirement.

I’ll Have Another, by Flower Alley out of the Arch mare Arch’s Gal Edith, was bred by Harvey Clarke. He was purchased as a yearling for $11,000 by Victor Davila, who pinhooked I’ll Have Another the following April at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales 2-year-olds in training auction. Dennis O’Neill, who advises owner Paul Reddam and is the brother of trainer Doug O’Neill, purchased I’ll Have Another at that sale on behalf of Reddam.

Sore shins limited I’ll Have Another’s 2-year-old campaign to three starts, and when he made his first start as a 3-year-old on Feb. 4, it was off a five-month layoff. Reddam chose to go in the Lewis, rather than a shorter allowance race. The combination of the layoff and the fact I’ll Have Another was racing two turns for the first time caused his price to skyrocket to 43-1 from a sensible morning line of 12-1.

“He’s always been an incredibly talented horse,” Doug O’Neill said. “We thought we’d take a chance. We thought he’d hit the board.”

He did better than that. I’ll Have Another was a comfortable 2 3/4-length winner of the Lewis when ridden for the first time by Mario Gutierrez, who would pilot I’ll Have Another the rest of his career.

Because he turned in such a big effort, the decision was made to not run again until the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. I’ll Have Another was tested that day, but outlasted Creative Cause to win by a nose.

I’ll Have Another was a fat 15-1 in the Kentucky Derby, but he received a perfect trip from Gutierrez despite breaking from post 19 and corralled pacesetting Bodemeister in the final yards to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Bodemeister, the Derby favorite, was favored again in the Preakness. Bodemeister got away with an easier pace, yet I’ll Have Another still ran him down in the finest performance of his career.

I’ll Have Another was now in position to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. But he never got a chance to see if he could to it.

“I’m afraid history is going to have to wait for another day,” Reddam said at a news conference the day before the Belmont.

A few weeks later, I’ll Have Another was sold by Reddam to Japan’s Big Red Farm, where I’ll Have Another will begin stud duty this spring.