Polatano, who works in supply team management for a medical company in nearby Irwindale, entered Santa Anita’s free “Derby Owner for the Day” contest on April 7 and as a result, he participated in the “owner experience”--without the bills. Accordingly, on Santa Anita Derby Day, he went to the paddock and watched up-close as jockey Mario Gutierrez, trainer Doug O’Neill and owners Paul and Zilla Reddam discussed pre-race strategy.
When Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another hit the finish line at Churchill Downs, 1 ½ lengths in front of favored Bodemeister, Politano knew he’d hit a jackpot, as the horse paid $32.60 on a $2.00 win ticket.
“I watched the race from New Jersey with my family,” said Politano, 32. “My parents were visiting out here in April and at the last minute, we decided to go to Santa Anita and I entered in the Derby contest. My parents had never been to Santa Anita and we had a great day.
“I was planning on watching the Kentucky Derby from home, but at the last minute, my work took me to Jersey, so I was able to watch the race with my family there. My mom was very optimistic, but I never win anything and I told her, ‘He’s 15 to 1. He’s not going to win.’
“When he (I’ll Have Another) pulled into second, I was still pessimistic. I was convinced there wasn’t enough track left to catch Bodemeister. I was still preparing myself for heartbreak, but when he caught him, it was just joy, disbelief and I turned to my family and screamed ‘He won!!’
“I ran to my stepfather, who also bet on him and we hugged and just started jumping up and down like two little kids and then I lifted my mom up off the ground and we were all just on cloud nine for the rest of the night.”
Santa Anita’s “Derby Owner for the Day” was the brainchild of Santa Anita C.E.O. Mark Verge, who coincidentally, is a lifelong friend of winning trainer O’Neill.
“This is wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” said Verge. “We’re so happy for Greg and we hope he follows I’ll Have Another in his next race, the Preakness Stakes, on May 19. Our ‘Derby Owner’ contest couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Doug’s a great friend, but more importantly, it’s great to have a Southern California-based horse win the Derby and be in the national spotlight.
“It’s great for Santa Anita and it’s great for our entire circuit here. We’ve got great weather, great purses and great facilities. We need new fans and new horses and it looks like we’re on our way. Hats-off to Greg and we hope to see him more often here at The Great Race Place.”
Palitano said he intends to “put my money in the bank and I’ll try not to blow it. My mom and dad were so instrumental in me entering in the contest and winning it so I’m going to take them on a vacation to Hawaii when the time is right.”
I’ll Have Another became the 16th horse to exit the Santa Anita Derby and win Churchill Downs’ Run for the Roses. He became the first Santa Anita Derby winner since Sunday Silence in 1989 to win the Kentucky Derby.
Live racing will return to Santa Anita in late September, as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will highlight the Autumn Meet on Nov. 2 and 3.