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Win or lose, Reddam plans to enjoy it
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Paul Reddam is going to try to have a good time at the Kentucky Derby. You can bank on it.
Reddam has had a tumultuous spring with the Derby prospects he owns. At the beginning of the year, he had three contenders, but a month ago, Notional went out with an ankle chip. His other two colts, Great Hunter and Liquidity, are seeking to bounce back Saturday from disappointing final preps. And Reddam was ensnared in a legal dispute between a Cincinnati-based bank and the former owners of Great Hunter that, to an outsider, looked like a high-stakes shakedown.
This will be the third time in five years that Reddam has had a horse in the Derby. He has moved past the Derby rookie stage, where anticipation of winning becomes so overwhelming that anything short of victory can spoil the whole experience.
"Hopefully I've learned a few things," Reddam, 51, said in a telephone interview from the offices of CashCall, the personal lending company he owns in Fountain Valley, Calif. "I'll try to contain my level of excitement because soon after the race goes, if you lose, it's a terrible feeling."
Reddam's two previous starters were Ten Most Wanted in 2003 and Wilko in 2005.
"Ten Most Wanted had run so well in the Illinois Derby, and was training so well," Reddam said. "About an hour and a half before the race, I went over to the stable for the pre-fight routine. By the time I walked over with the horse, my trainer, Wally Dollase, had me absolutely convinced we were going to win the Derby."
Ten Most Wanted was bumped sharply at the start, hurt his back, and finished ninth.
"And then with Wilko, I thought he had a chance to win, too," Reddam said. "When he finished sixth, I wasn't shocked, but I was depressed."
A few days before this year's Derby, Reddam sounded philosophical, which is not a stretch for him - he has a doctorate in
philosophy from the University of Southern California and a master's degree from the University of Toronto in his native Canada.
"I've got two starters," he said. "The odds of randomly winning in a 20-horse field are 1 in 10, so there's a 90 percent chance I'm going to lose. I'm hoping the result will be a pleasant surprise. I've learned a couple of things over the years, and one thing is that if you think you're going to win, losing is devastating."
Great Hunter is considered the better of Reddam's colts, both of whom are trained by Doug O'Neill. Great Hunter finished third here at Churchill Downs last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Derby entrants Street Sense and Circular Quay. He won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last year, beating those two colts, and this year captured the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
Earlier this year, Reddam ended up in a protracted dispute with Fifth Third Bank over the rights to Great Hunter. Fifth Third Bank is seeking to recoup loans made to Great Hunter's previous owners, L. Eric and Ilona Whetstone, who bought Great Hunter as a yearling, then sold him privately last June to Reddam after Great Hunter had started twice.
Great Hunter ran five more times last year, all in stakes, and finished in the money in all of them. At the beginning of the year, before Great Hunter made his 2007 debut in the Lewis, Fifth Third filed suit against Reddam, claiming the bank had a legal right to ownership of the colt.
One has to wonder if Fifth Third would have been so interested in Great Hunter if he had stepped in a hole the day after Reddam's private purchase and never raced again. Reddam began negotiations with the bank, but the dispute grew heated leading up to Great Hunter's second start this year in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
After obtaining a restraining order against Fifth Third, ensuring that the bank would not make any claims against Great Hunter once the colt arrived in Kentucky, Fifth Third sent a letter to Keeneland asking that any purse earnings by Great Hunter be held by the track. Reddam, who has an easygoing, pleasant manner, was furious.
"It's the latest little stunt from the bank," Reddam said the day before the Blue Grass. "It's beyond ridiculous."
The day of the Blue Grass, Reddam and O'Neill were scheduled to fly from California for the race. It was a cold, dreary day at Keeneland. The private plane Reddam was to use had mechanical problems, so another was brought in. But Reddam decided not to go.
"The whole dispute was a contributing factor," Reddam said. "It just seemed like there was bad karma. And it turned out to be prophetic. Notional got his fracture that morning, and then Great Hunter ran fifth."
In the midst of that day, though, Reddam finally settled with Fifth Third. Terms of the deal have not been made public, and both parties signed documents saying the dispute was amicably resolved. But on the day of the Blue Grass, a few hours before a resolution was reached, a source close to Reddam said the pending settlement involved cash and several breeding seasons to Great Hunter once he goes to stud at the end of his racing career.
"It was a distraction for a little while," Reddam said.
Racing is a passion for Reddam. He first was exposed to racehorses at a Standardbred track in Windsor, Ontario, and although he would occasionally go to see the Thoroughbreds just across the river in Detroit, he enjoyed the Standardbreds more. When living in Toronto, he would go to Greenwood and Mohawk race courses. When he moved to Southern California in 1979, Reddam would attend the night harness races at Hollywood Park.
"But then one day I went to Santa Anita, and I thought, 'Oh my God, where have they been hiding this?' " he said. "That was the year Spectacular Bid went on his run as a 4-year-old. I fell in love with Thoroughbreds then."
Reddam's first business success was with the mortgage lending company Ditech.com, which he sold in 1999. In addition to owning a couple dozen high-class horses with his wife, Zillah, Reddam has struck a relationship with Hollywood Park that has led him to sponsor two races, the CashCall Mile for female turf runners in the summer and the CashCall Futurity in the fall.
Reddam has won some of the sport's biggest races, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Wilko, the Metropolitan Handicap with Swept Overboard, the Hollywood Starlet with Elloluv, last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf with Red Rocks, and this year's Godolphin Mile with Spring at Last.
The Derby, though, remains the Holy Grail. Reddam is going to try to enjoy this one. He purchased 35 rooms at a popular downtown hotel to treat family and friends. He said he will try to embrace the overall experience, not focus so much on the outcome. As he did the two previous times, Reddam will go over to the stable area midway through the day to walk over with his horses to the paddock for the Derby.
"That's a tremendous experience," he said. "You walk by the crowd. They're yelling and screaming, encouraging you. That's worth going back for. The actual race, it's almost like a blur. The gate opens, there's confusion, it's hard to follow, and then you say, 'What happened?' "