SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This afternoon, the 137th running of the Preakness takes place at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Kentucky Derby Winner, the horse called, I'll Have Another, will try to capture the second jewel in the Triple Crown of Horse Racing, something only 10 horses have done since 1978. I'll Have Another, its trainer and owner all come from Southern California, and hopes are high that a big win will give a much-needed boost to horse racing in the California. NPR'S Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's 15 minutes before the fourth race at Betfair Hollywood Park. Trainer Leandro Mora is on the paddock giving final instructions to his jockey.
LEANDRO MORA: That's all we need, you know, a good break and go for it. So, let's win it then.
KAHN: Then a leg up into the saddle.
MORA: All right. Best of luck, man.
KAHN: And Mora's horse and jockey head off toward the track. Mora is cool and calm. He's been in the business for more than three decades, the last 11 years working for Doug O'Neill. O'Neill is the head trainer of I'll Have Another, who's stabled behind Hollywood Park's racetrack. Mora says winning the Derby is such a thrill. And he's sure I'll Have Another will do it again today at the Preakness.
MORA: Because he's a smart horse and he's a go for it.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUGLE MUSIC, "FIRST CALL")
KAHN: As the call to the post sounds, Mora makes his way down to the field at Hollywood Park, the best spot to watch his horse and jockey as they round the final turn.
MORA: Come on, Kevin, you got to move right now. Come on, Kevin. Come on, Kevin. Come on, come on, my old buddy.
KAHN: Mora is rooting for his horse and for all of California's horse racing. It needs some good news. Attendance at the state's race tracks has being falling steadily for years. HBO recently cancelled its racing series "Luck" after three horses died during filming at Santa Anita Park. That picturesque race track has been battling with its own higher-than-average fatalities. And there are persistent allegations that some horses are being doped, including some trained by Doug O'Neill, a charge he denies and is fighting with California state regulators.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAKING)
KAHN: At O'Neill's stables at Hollywood Park it's still business as usual. There are stalls to clean and horses to feed.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE NAYING)
KAHN: The track's head promoter, George Ortuzar, says horse racing is extremely competitive. He's heard the allegations against O'Neill but greatly admires his loyalty and generosity. He says O'Neill really took a chance letting an unknown jockey run his horse in the Kentucky Derby and, boy, did it pay off.
GEORGE ORTUZAR: He could have the best jockey on every one of his horses all the time, and he really spreads the wealth around. He's nice to people, he genuinely likes people, he genuinely loves horses.
KAHN: It's not just O'Neill who's had run-ins with state authorities. I'll Have Another's owner Paul Reddam has had his own problems. After founding and then selling the online mortgage lender Ditech, Reddam opened Cash Call, a payday lending operation based in Southern California. Reddam had former child star Gary Coleman do his pitching.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISING SPOT)
KAHN: Two years ago, the company was told to stop airing misleading advertising and ordered to pay the state a million dollars. Reddam did not respond to several requests for an interview. After all that past bad press, Reddam, O'Neill and I'll Have Another are enjoying the positive headlines that come with a Kentucky Derby win. Jon White, a commentator with HRTV, says that spotlight is also good for California racing, which has long taken a back seat to races out East.
JON WHITE: We feel we don't get the respect that a lot of horses or our trainers or our jockeys deserve.
KAHN: Back at that race at Hollywood Park, Leandro Mora hopes 2012 is California's big year, even if his current race isn't going that well.
MORA: Come on. Get her in there, get her in there, get her in there, get her in, get her in, get her in, buddy. Oh, well. We're not going to win this race. OK. We're just going to have some fun.
KAHN: Mora was right - his horse finished third. But today in the Preakness, he's sure his horse I'll Have Another will come in first. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.