It has been, shall we say, an eventful four weeks for the connections of I'll Have Another since they watched their colt win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 5. In these times, it seems with every accolade one collects, there is a flip side, with negativity also brought to bear on a major contender and his connections.
If the past indiscretions of trainer Doug O’Neill and the examination of the business practices of owner Paul Reddam strike a familiar chord, it is because we witnessed an eerily similar process four years ago when Big Brown took the first two legs of the Triple Crown and came to Belmont Park looking to end more than three decades of Triple Crown futility.
Nobody understands what the connections of I’ll Have Another are going through better than Mike Iavarone, one of the principals of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Stables (IEAH). The former Wall Street investment broker and banker and his band of partners seemed to revel in their black suits and designer sunglasses bad-boy image, and with controversial and outspoken trainer Rick Dutrow and his checkered past along for the ride, perhaps it was not surprising they got more attention planted on themselves and less on their horse.
"The negativity surprised me at the time because I was being attacked for business dealings that had happened 15-18 years previous, and I didn’t understand how that correlated to the present, especially when it had nothing to do with the horse business," said Iavarone. "In retrospect, I’ve learned the media’s job is to write the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are certain outlets that take great joy in writing about horse racing, and then there are outlets that want to dig into the dark side. So as success comes, you also have to be able to handle controversy."
In addition to the negative news stories about his stock-trading practices, Iavarone had to deal with the fact that Big Brown was fighting a nasty quarter crack problem between the Preakness (gr. I) and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
"It was a very difficult time because we were dealing with multiple issues," he remembered. "All the publicity directed at Rick and myself, and then the issues with the horse. Everything is a blur because you’re trying to do so much and make a lot of people happy, and more importantly trying to make sure your horse gets to the race the right way. It’s tumultuous. I certainly enjoyed the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness more than the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont.
"Put it this way, though: There’s nothing in it from the difficulty side or the negative publicity side that would ever prevent me from wanting to be there again."
As the connections of I’ll Have Another wrestle with appreciating the success they’ve enjoyed on the one hand and try to balance that with the history they seek to make in the Belmont, it is difficult to keep those achievements in perspective.
"I think you can only reflect back on the success and good fortune you’ve had when it’s all over," said Iavarone. "You still have miles to go. When you’ve climbed those first two hills, the third hill is everything. It’s like a team that goes to the Super Bowl and loses; nobody remembers them even though they’ve had a great achievement.
"So when you’ve gotten this far, you’re happy with what you’ve achieved, but you’re not going to be satisfied until that third chapter gets written."
In the Belmont, Big Brown was settled into a moderate pace, but was eventually pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux as the field neared the stretch run.
Today IEAH is a smaller operation that focuses mainly on breeding mares to Big Brown and hoping to help make him a successful stallion. Iavarone said he is breeding both to race and sell. The hot spotlight was turned off after Big Brown came up short in his Belmont Stakes effort.
"I knew the publicity about me would end after the Belmont one way or the other," said Iavarone. "It would either be a situation where the horse won the Triple Crown and it would be all about him, or he would lose and then nobody would care about reading the stories anymore."