05/15/2012 2:20PM

Hovdey: At the Preakness, Reddam will be a celebrity

Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Mario Gutierrez and owner Paul Reddam celebrate victory in the Kentucky Derby.

On the Monday morning following the Kentucky Derby, still wiped out and hoarse from cheering home I’ll Have Another, Paul Reddam sat down to a series of meetings with fund managers in the financial district of New York.

Some of them were not impressed.

More accurately, they had no clue. Their previous Saturday had been spent in pursuits unrelated to anything happening at Churchill Downs – sailing, golfing, re-grouting their Pietra Firma tile – to the extent that any connection between the running of America’s most famous horse race and the man before them representing his CashCall lending company was of no more significance than the price of tea in Beijing.

“To that point it had been non-stop since the race,” Reddam said a few days later. “These were meetings set up long ago, meetings I had to make. Then all of a sudden I had to fit winning the Kentucky Derby into all that.”

Easier for a Clydesdale to pass through the eye of a needle.

“It was a nice problem to have, and were they aware of the Derby, the meeting would start with everyone wishing they’d bet on the horse,” Reddam went on. “But where they had no clue I chose to leave it that way. At a certain point it was a refreshing change to talk with people who didn’t know that I’d won the Derby. We’re kind of faux celebrities right now, with people coming out of the woodwork at you. To live like that full-time would be terrible.”

[PREAKNESS STAKES: Get PPs, contender profiles, video updates]

As to that, Reddam now faces a fate set in stone. If I’ll Have Another beats Bodemeister, Went the Day Well, and Creative Cause again in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday, the switch of a shrieking mechanism will be tripped, and he and his wife, Zillah, will be swept up in a tide of Triple Crown mayhem. On the other hand, if I’ll Have Another loses the Preakness . . . well, they’ll always have Louisville.

But if the colt wins, look out. Going into the Preakness, Reddam & Co. are first among the several story lines still intriguing enough to follow. If I’ll Have Another wins, the owner literally will become, for at least three weeks, the face and voice of horse racing.

“I don’t know how prepared I am for that,” Reddam said. “If he should be fortunate enough to win the Preakness, I’ve been advised I’ll need a handler, someone to talk with everyone on my behalf. That would probably be a job too big for anyone. I tend to wander in my own direction, either right or wrong.”

The two-week turnaround from Derby to Preakness is one of those bizarre racing rituals that comes with no sensible explanation. Even as the surrounding game has changed, featuring gentle, targeted campaigns, the Triple Crown requires horses to do something they’ve never done before and will never do again. Of course it makes no sense. That’s what makes it so much fun.

Reddam knows full well how unique are the demands of the Triple Crown. His racing stable extends to Great Britain, where Zillah Reddam was born and where their horses are trained by Brian Meehan at the fabled Manton in Wiltshire, built by Robert Sangster in 1984.

An owner lucky enough to win the first leg of the English Triple Crown – the 2000 Guineas in early May – has a full month to enjoy the moment before committing to the Epsom Derby in June. At the corresponding point in the American Triple Crown, the emotional screws are tightened almost immediately, requiring an owner to answer questions about “what’s next” instead of savoring what just occurred.

[PIMLICO FRIDAY: Watch live – Black-Eyed Susan, Pimlico Special]

In the midst of this rush to ruin the Derby buzz, Reddam clings to details of the big day as precious gems.

“On Derby Day I was extraordinarily calm,” he recalled from his home in Sunset Beach, Calif. “It was a bizarre feeling, to be so relaxed. In the paddock before the race, as he was about to get on the horse, I said, ‘Mario, it’s a walk in the park.’ He just grinned, and off he went.”

At some point, and don’t ask him how, Reddam was transported across the main track over which I’ll Have Another and Derby rookie Mario Gutierrez had just made history to find himself ankle deep on the Churchill Downs turf course, awaiting the return of his horse and jockey.

“When I looked up as they approached, Mario wasn’t just crying, he was weeping, almost to the point I was afraid he might fall off the horse,” Reddam said. “Somehow he’d managed to push all that emotion down during the week, and then it bubbled over.”

Since no owner has won the Triple Crown since Louis and Patrice Wolfson in 1978 with Affirmed, it is impossible to predict the impact such an event would have in 2012. The world, in case no one’s noticed, is a much different place, and there might be a whole lot of weeping – or maybe tweeping. It is safe to predict, though, that the Reddams and the rest of the I’ll Have Another entourage would be dropping the “faux” from their celebrity status, at least in the short run.

But first there’s the Preakness hill to climb, looming just 13 days after waking up as winners of the Derby, and well before reality has taken firm hold. Consider as typical of freshly minted Derby winners this exchange between Paul and Zillah Reddam late on the evening of May 5, when Louisville was abuzz with the name of their colt and they were looking for a place to entertain their friends.

“We could always celebrate upstairs at the restaurant back at the Galt House,” he said, referring to the official Derby hotel.

“Oh, I’m not sure we could get in there,” she said. “It’s Derby day, and I’m certain it’s sold out.”

“But we won the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “I think they’ll make room for us.”