Kentucky Derby

Mullins a complicated winner

LOUISVILLE — The connections are complicated.

One of I Want Revenge's owners is a 52-year-old former rock-band singer, now mortgage company CEO. David Lanzman's hair is streaked. Three silver hoops adorn his left ear.

Another part-owner is IEAH Stables, owner of last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Big Brown. Tuesday morning, IEAH's controversial co-president Michael Iavarone was the one sporting a casual blue jacket unzipped enough to reveal a rather tanned chest.

The jockey is 19-year-old Joe Talamo, co-star of the Animal Planet reality show about jockeys. Talamo could pass for 15. The skills he exhibited in the Wood Memorial — ageless.

Then there is the focused 46-year-old trainer. Tuesday, Jeff Mullins was the one wearing the simple, gray Wrangler T-shirt.

Media: What has your previous Derby experience taught you?

Mullins: "Bring a good horse."

What Mullins has done with his horses has complicated the California trainer's reputation, however.

The same day I Want Revenge won the Wood Memorial, Mullins was running afoul of the New York Racing Association by administering an over-the-counter cough formula to Gato Go Win in the detention barn before the Grade III Bay Shore Stakes. The transgression brought Mullins a seven-day suspension and $2,500 fine.

Mullins said he believed the act was legal because the substance was not confiscated when he entered the detention barn. He admitted he would have treated I Want Revenge similarly had the Wood been the earlier race.

"Jeff and I have been together a little over three years and I don't think he's ever lied to me once," Lanzman said Tuesday. "He looked me in the eye, and he said, 'Trust me. I made a mistake. But it's a minor mistake, and it's going to go away.' I took him at his word. He turned out to be right."

It is not Mullins' first scrape with the rules. Among other violations, he served a 20-day suspension after a horse he trained at Hollywood Park tested positive for mepivacaine in 2006.

Then there was his 2005 encounter with T.J. Simers, sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Simers quoted Mullins as saying the problem with racing, "are all the addicts and idiots crying because they lost a $2 bet. ... I train to win, and that's all I care about." Mullins said the quotes were taken out of context.

But win he does. Mullins has been the leading trainer at Santa Anita, Hollywood or Del Mar 10 times.

"His attention to detail is unbelievable," Lanzman said. "He thinks of the littlest thing before it happens."

Mullins is the only trainer to win three consecutive Santa Anita Derbys — with Buddy Gil in 2003, Castledale in '04 and Buzzard's Bay in '05.

All three ran poorly in the Derby. And I Want Revenge lost twice to Bob Baffert's Pioneerof the Nile in California, running second in the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 20, third in the Robert B. Lewis on Feb 7.

"We didn't want to run in the Santa Anita Derby because he didn't handle that track at all," Mullins said of California's synthetic surfaces. "We had to make a decision where to go. We all agreed on the Gotham."

No one predicted the son of Stephen Got Even would win by 8½ lengths. "It took a while for that race to sink in," Mullins admitted.

The Wood victory was the opposite. Distracted by the rattle of the starting gate next to his own, I Want Revenge was left behind. "I was sick to my stomach," Mullins said afterward.

His competitors felt that at the wire.

Talamo rode an amazing race, guiding his mount in and around traffic to a 11/2-length win.

"For a fairly lightly raced horse, he's had about every obstacle there is, and he's overcome them," Mullins said. "That's nice to have in the back of your mind."

It would be nicer to have a Derby winner, of course.

Said Mullins, "It's as important to me as any man who trains race horses."

Simple enough.