06/06/2012 3:13PM

Pinhookers saw profit, not future star in I'll Have Another

Barbara D. Livingston
The point of buying I'll Have Another as a yearling, say his original owners, was always to resell him for a profit.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It took Victor Davila about a half-hour and $11,000 to earn his place in history as the man who broke Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another. Davila, a 34-year-old exercise rider for Barry and Shari Eisaman’s Florida yearling-to-juvenile resale operation, first saw I’ll Have Another in the back walking ring at Keeneland’s 2010 September yearling sale. Davila doesn’t pretend he caught a glimpse of greatness when the colt born on April Fool’s Day stepped into his view. But Davila did see something that few others saw that day, and that was a horse who could turn a profit.

Does he regret letting I’ll Have Another go? Not at all, says Davila. The point always was to resell.

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Davila, a father of three, has worked for the Eisamans’ yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking operation for about 10 years. But he also has a small pinhooking venture himself, and it was for his own account that Davila was scoping out yearlings on Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, when he spotted Hip No. 3660. I’ll Have Another’s breeder, Harvey Clarke, offered the chestnut Flower Alley colt for sale partly because he was “a little weak behind and a little immature,” as Clarke later recalled. Back then, I’ll Have Another was just a horse, as Clarke put it.

“When I saw him in the ring, maybe 30 feet away from me, I saw a horse that was skinny,” remembered Davila, a native of Villanueva, Mexico. “But when I started looking at him, he had a nice walk, a long walk, and he had good bone. The horse was skinny, but he had nice balance. That’s what picked up my attention. He looked to me like maybe he had been in a field where the other horses ate first and he ate last whatever was left.”

Davila also liked the fact that Arch and Pleasant Tap sired I’ll Have Another’s dam and second dam, respectively. “Arch mares are good producers, and Pleasant Tap mares are the same,” he said. “It was a nice pedigree. You have everything, speed and distance, in that horse,” he said. “I walked around him maybe 20 or 25 minutes, and I put the price in my mind. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go to $18,000 for him.’ Well, I bought him for $11,000. That was a good deal.”

After the Keeneland September sale, Davila took I’ll Have Another to his 10-acre farm in Ocala, where he has a seven-stall barn, and a 4 1/2-furlong gallop whose turns are too sharp to allow much more than a gentle gallop. After exercising horses for the Eisamans each morning, Davila returned home by noon to start work with his own sale prospects.

“I started to see a difference,” Davila said. “He started gaining more weight and looking beautiful. He was smart and never did anything wrong. He liked to train.”

Davila said I’ll Have Another’s breaking and early training went easily, and his confidence in the colt grew when he began galloping him regularly.

"I thought, ‘Okay, he could go into a $200,000 stake,’ ” Davila recalled. “But I never imagined he goes to the Derby. He was a good horse, but I never imagined that. He always showed me speed. When I breezed him two times in company, he was relaxed. When you ask him to go a little bit faster, you only ask a little and he goes. When don’t ask him anything, he stays the same.”

Davila sent I’ll Have Another to the Eisamans for breezes and gate training a couple of months before the OBS April sale.

“He was always a nice mover, very well-broken, and good mentally,” said Barry Eisaman. “When we started to work him, he had above-average speed. He just looked like a nice, nice horse. I don’t think any of us felt we were in the presence of a Derby winner, but we were in the presence of a real nice, useful horse. But a big piece of I’ll Have Another is his inner desire for this sport. He’s like a real professional. He wants to win, and he finds a way to get the job done.

“You can have lots of young horses who train and breeze well, who are quick and talented and sound. But the last big test is throwing them in with a field of other babies and they take a few punches, whether they have the desire and ability to make their talent count. I can evaluate lots of potential skills and talents in a baby, and he had all of those. But you don’t get that last glimpse into their being until they’re under race conditions.”

Davila and the Eisamans knew they had a speedy, useful colt when they took I’ll Have Another to OBS. He posted a very respectable 10.4-second time for his eighth-mile work at the sale’s under-tack show, potential bidders seemed impressed with his video, and people stopped by the barn to ask for a closer look at Davila’s $11,000 colt.

“You’d bring him out on a shank, and people would say, ‘Oh, his tail’s kind of short, and his pasterns are a little long,’” Eisaman said. “You could start picking at him a little bit. But Dennis O’Neill looked at the big picture. He was an awful nice mover, and it was a nice pedigree. He looked like he was going to go long. And he’s not going to cost $350,000.”

When the bidding was over, O’Neill, brother of I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill, signed the ticket for $35,000.

I’ll Have Another is the best runner Davila has pinhooked so far, but he wasn’t Davila’s best-seller at last year’s juvenile auctions. That was the Rockport Harbor colt Little Wyatt, whom Davila bought at Keeneland September for $8,500 and sold at Fasig-Tipton’s Timonium auction for $100,000. He also pinhooked an $11,500 Keeneland September purchase, the Whywhywhy filly Because of Me, at Timonium for $20,000 and the $3,500 Saint Anddan filly Moment to Riches for $11,000 at OBS April.

Davila is proud of I’ll Have Another, and he plans to be at Belmont with the Eismans, his wife Antonia, and daughter Bianca when the colt attempts to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. But he doesn’t expect his yearling buying habits to change much. He’s still planning to scour the last two catalogs at Keeneland’s two-week September yearling sale, and he’s not upping his budget.

“I try to keep to $10,000 to $15,000,” he said.“I never walk in the barns, I always see my horses in the walking ring. I don’t like to go in the barns, because I lose time. I’ve got to see like 60 horses a day, so I don’t have time to look at them all in the barn. I go for the last three days of the sale. When the horses come to the ring, I check their number, the sire and the broodmare, everything. If I see a horse and I like it, I go in behind him and look at him, watching him walk down and back. You’re trying to find the best horse you can buy. If he is a perfect horse, he costs too much money.”