Wilko takes America by storm with Juvenile win in first North American start.

Wilko takes America by storm with Juvenile win in first North American start.

Skip Dickstein

Juvenile Recap: The Tops

J. Paul Reddam has fired plenty of bullets in his two decades of racehorse ownership, but the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships presented an unusual opportunity for the man who has made his fortune selling mortgage loans. Reddam was listed as owner--either outright or in partnership--of starters in four of the eight Cup races at Lone Star Park.

First, there was Elloluv, a grade I-winning 4-year-old filly who finished second in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park. The earner of nearly $1.3 million was dismissed at 21-1 in this year's Distaff and finished seventh of 11 in an even effort.

Next up was Sharp Lisa, a 2-year-old filly who missed winning the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) by a head at Keeneland. Sharp Lisa, owned by Reddam, Suarez Racing, and Mark Schlesinger, was sixth at the first call and sixth at the wire in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) as the 12-1 sixth choice in the 12-filly field.

In the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), there was 3-year-old Pt's Grey Eagle, whom Reddam claimed for $62,500 last year. This year, the gelding moved up from the allowance ranks to stakes with an upset win in the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park. At 23-1, Pt's Grey Eagle was far back early in the Sprint and rallied late to finish eighth in the 13-horse field.

Three down, one to go and things didn't look good, at least by the tote board. Reddam's final hope was the 2-year-old colt Wilko, who shipped over from Great Britain for a shot at the $1.5-million Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He never had raced on the dirt and would face several highly regarded United States-based colts.

Wilko went to the post at 28-1, the second-longest shot in the field behind the maiden Twice Unbridled. He was Reddam's longest shot of the afternoon. Reddam, quite successful in the competitive loan business, obviously isn't scared to take a chance. But even he had his doubts about Wilko, who had managed two wins in 10 turf starts on the season in England.

"I had four bullets, fired three, and didn't do any good," Reddam said. "I thought he had the least shot of any of them."

On the racetrack, Wilko proved him wrong. Never more than two lengths behind at any point in the Juvenile, Wilko rated just outside the early leaders in third, dropped back a bit to fourth on the far turn, then found another gear in the stretch and wore down the leaders to win by three-quarters of a length over Afleet Alex. Sun King was a neck back in third.

The win payoff was $58.60, the largest of the day. Reddam appeared surprised, but when it comes to his racehorses, he likes it that way.

"It's really a spin of the roulette wheel," the native of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, said after the race. "I always have more fun when I have low expectations and win, than when I have high expectations and lose. That's all downside."

Wilko, by Awesome Again--Native Roots, by Indian Ridge, was bred by Texan Ro Parra in Kentucky. He was purchased as a weanling for $35,000 by Barry Baxter at the 2002 Keeneland November sale, then sold to Newmarket International for $75,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Wilko made his career debut May 3 in England and raced nine more times through Sept. 25 for owner Paul Roy. Reddam, on the recommendation of his adviser, Jamie McCalmont, purchased 75% of Wilko for an undisclosed sum less than a month before the Breeders' Cup. Susan Roy, wife of Paul Roy and co-owner of 2002 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Sarava, retained 25% of the colt.

"I bought him after his last start," Reddam said. "Whatever I paid, it was a bargain."

Reddam claimed his first Thoroughbred in 1988, but got into the racing game in the early '80s by putting together Standardbred syndicates while he was teaching philosophy at California State University in Los Angeles. His Thoroughbred stable is based in California and New York. He still owns about 30 Standardbreds that race in California, New Jersey, and Canada.

When he buys horses, Reddam said he looks for "upside." After a few failed business endeavors, he formed Ditech, a mortgage company that advertised current rates via television ads. He started with a $50,000 radio ad, then billboards, and finally television spots in which he was the star. The business took off, putting Reddam and his wife, Zillah, on a different path.

Reddam sold Ditech in 1999. He is president of Cash Call, a consumer loan company in California, but now has more time to focus on his racing and breeding interests.

McCalmont is a bloodstock agent Reddam hired in January. Reddam said he teases McCalmont about being the "racing manager" for the stable, but McCalmont called himself a consultant.

"He's by Awesome Again, so we thought he'd be pure dirt," McCalmont said of Wilko. "That was really our feeling about buying this horse. We thought he would improve switching to the dirt."

In the Juvenile, Wilko tackled a short but accomplished field of 2-year-old colts. Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. speculated that this year's Juvenile might have reflected the impact of mare reproductive loss syndrome in 2001 in terms of numbers, but he and other observers noted the major players made the gate.

Favoritism fell to Roman Ruler, who won the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar and the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park. Proud Accolade, winner of the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, was the second choice. Afleet Alex, winner of the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) and Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, was the third choice.

Also in the field were Consolidator, winner of the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland; Sun King, third in the Champagne; Scandinavia, a maiden winner from England; and the maiden Twice Unbridled.

Twice Unbridled led the field through early fractions of :23.54 for the opening quarter-mile and :47.49 for the half-mile, with Consolidator in second and Wilko in third. After six furlongs in 1:11.25, Sun King and Afleet Alex made their moves past the weakening leader. Afleet Alex held a short lead through the lane and fought off Sun King, but he couldn't contain a resurgent Wilko who came with a wide move. The final time for the 11/16 miles on a fast track was 1:42.09, less than a second off the Juvenile record of 1:41.47 set by Favorite Trick in 1997 at Hollywood Park.

Wilko was ridden by Frankie Dettori, who had won three previous Cup races--the 1994 Mile (gr. IT) with Barathea, the 1999 Turf (gr. IT) with Daylami, and the 2001 Turf with Fantastic Light. Dettori hadn't ridden Wilko before, but he did work the colt seven-eighths of a mile on the all-weather surface at Newmarket.

"He worked extremely well," Dettori said. "He is very tough. One thing that he does is he always tries. (Trainer) Jeremy Noseda said, 'I would rather you be more aggressive than conservative.' Once he jumped good, I thought I would keep the spot and see what happened. In these championship races, you have to ride them as they come. Jeremy gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, and it worked out."

Bob Baffert, trainer of Fog City Stable's Roman Ruler, said jockey Corey Nakatani told him the colt didn't handle the surface. Roman Ruler won the Norfolk in his last start with blinkers, but he didn't wear the equipment in the Juvenile.

Roman Ruler encountered some early trouble heading into the first turn and was reserved near the back of the pack thereafter.

"You've got to be aggressive with this horse," Baffert said of Roman Ruler. "You have to put it to him. He has got to be ridden a certain way, and we're trying to figure out his style."

Baffert later said Roman Ruler was a cryptorchid and would undergo surgery to have his undescended testicle removed the weekend after the Breeders' Cup.

Said Tim Ritchey, who trains Afleet Alex for Cash Is King Stable: "He ran a gutsy race. He kind of stumbled leaving the gate and had to check a little bit. He had to make up a lot of ground. We were farther back than we were planning to be, but that happens in racing."

Jeremy Rose, who has ridden Afleet Alex in all six of his starts, said the colt got caught a bit wide, which cost him the victory. Afleet Alex, now four-for-six, has lost his two races by a combined 11/4 lengths.

Nick Zito, who trains Sun King for Tracy Farmer, said his colt might have done better had he been steered toward the outside by jockey Edgar Prado. Otherwise, he said the colt "ran his guts out."

Wilko always has had the same style, according to Noseda, who won with his first Breeders' Cup starter. He called Wilko a "grinder" with a lot of heart. The colt was worse than third only twice in his 10 starts, with placings in group II and III stakes.

Noseda said he and Paul Roy, the colt's previous owner, discussed a strategy in the summer. Wilko, he said, had plenty of racing experience and figured to handle the distance of the Juvenile. Awesome Again, his sire, won the 11/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), and is the sire of Ghostzapper, winner of this year's Classic.

"We took a chance and it worked out," Noseda said. "He had worked well on the artificial surface at Newmarket, but I didn't expect what happened (Oct. 30). I would have been happy had he finished third."

It was a bittersweet moment for Noseda, a London native who is based in England but who worked under John Gosden for five years, including three in Southern California. The plan was to see if Wilko could handle the dirt at a top level, and if so, the colt would stay in training in the U.S. under the care of trainer Craig Dollase in California.

"My part of the job is done," Noseda said. "We'll live in all of our memories for a while, and we'll have a big party in Newmarket next week. He's going to California, and please God, he'll head to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I)."

Dollase, who trains Elloluv and other horses for Reddam, was understandably pleased after the Juvenile.

"Jeremy Noseda did a wonderful job with him, and it looks like he took to the dirt really well," Dollase said. "He'll go back to California, I'll talk things over with Mr. Reddam, and we'll map out a plan for him."

The possibility of having a colt for the Triple Crown is yet another enticement for Reddam, who continues to expand his operation by making purchases privately or at 2-year-olds in training sales. In 2003, he purchased a 25% interest in Ten Most Wanted, who went on to win the Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs later that year.

He retains the interest in Ten Most Wanted, who will begin a career at stud at Gainesway Farm next year.

Reddam, who believes horse racing is all about the dream, is the kind of guy who thoroughly enjoys the game whether it be watching his horses in a $3,000 claiming race at the Cal-Expo harness track or a grade I Thoroughbred stakes. He said that until Oct. 30, wins by Ten Most Wanted and Swept Overboard, who won the 2002 Metropolitan Mile (gr. I) at Belmont Park, were the highlights of his time as a racehorse owner.

That all changed with Wilko, a horse he didn't even own until about a month before the Breeders' Cup.

The expectations may not have been low, but they certainly weren't high. And that's just how Reddam likes it.

"I guess this would have to be the tops now," he said.