As seen in the New York Times’ The Rail
Derby Victory Makes for Happy Days at HastingsBy LIZ O’CONNELL
As I’ll Have Another ran down Bodemeister to win this year’s Kentucky Derby, across the continent the rafters were shaking throughout Vancouver, British Columbia. The local racetrack’s adopted son, Mario Gutierrez, had coolly piloted I’ll Have Another to victory, just like he brought home enough winners to perennially be among Hastings Racecourse’s leading riders.
A week later, Gutierrez’s emotional initial reaction to the win and jubilant praise of his horse and its connections are part of Kentucky Derby 138’s zeitgeist. Negotiating the field of 19 other horses ridden by the likes of the Hall of Famers Kent Desormeaux and Mike Smith and the pressurized atmosphere of Churchill Downs on Derby Day, Gutierrez did what he set out to do — win.
The affable 25-year-old native of Vera Cruz, Mexico, first gives credit for the win to his mount, I’ll Have Another, then to the trainer Doug O’Neill and the owner Paul Reddam, and finally to his connections in Vancouver, who have supported, encouraged and given him rides since he moved his tack to Hastings in 2006.
“Now I can focus on the Preakness, my main priority is on I’ll Have Another,” Gutierrez said from southern California. “He’s such a nice horse that has changed my life. He is the best horse to ride, so professional. He lets me do anything I want.”
Gutierrez said he expected to arrive in Baltimore on Tuesday, and he has at least one mount to ride on the Pimlico oval so he can “get a hold of the track” before the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the elusive Triple Crown. However, before heading East, a weekend trip to Vancouver was planned.
“Hastings will always be my second home,” Guttierrez said. “I’ve lived there for six years, and it’s given me the opportunity to bring my family a better life. I am thankful for all the things happening here in California, but my heart will be up there a long time. It would be selfish of me to completely to leave Vancouver behind. If I am invited to ride back at Hastings I will. They understand that I have to break-in down here. It’s pretty tough, they are amazing riders here in California. I still have to work my way to the top to compete with these guys.”
He continued: “I am happy and excited to have the opportunities with the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness coming up. I can’t wait for Del Mar later in the summer. I’ve been going there for the last two or three years. I’ll be racing for Troy Taylor from Vancouver and, hopefully, for more trainers now.”
Troy Taylor trains for Glen Todd’s and Patrick Kinsella’s North American Thoroughbred Horse Company (N.A.T.H.C.) based at Hastings. The N.A.T.H.C. has held Gutierrez’s riding contract since 2007. He won his first graded stakes on its Sir Gallovic in 2007 and piloted its Holy Nova to a graded win in 2009. In 2006, he was the leading apprentice jockey, and in 2007 and 2008, the leading jockey at Hastings. The N.A.T.H.C. duo Todd and Kinsella are always either at the top or in the hunt for leading owner.
The relationship between Gutierrez, Taylor and Todd extends beyond the shedrow. “He calls me his Canadian father and Troy, Grandpa,” Todd said. “We are all close. He’s a great kid. He’s grown up a lot in the past few months and become a man.”
Not only does Gutierrez ride for Todd, he lived with the Todd family when he rode full time at Hastings.
Asked about his sudden celebrity and good fortune, Gutierrez said: “I try to enjoy it with Glen and Troy. I talk with them every day. I’ll send my money back to Canada, where Glen will help me. He’s a pretty smart guy, we’ll figure out what’s best. I’ve been talking with him about that, I talk with him about everything. He always points me in the right direction.”
It was while riding for Todd at the winter meets in southern California that Gutierrez landed on the colony’s radar. Although the young rider is miles away in California and even farther during this Triple Crown season, Todd is confident that he will traverse the news media whirlwind intact. “Mario has a place in Arcadia, a good home base for riding down south,” he said. “He will be all right, I’m not worried about him. Troy and I have given him the lecture a hundred times, he knows what can happen and he knows we are here for him.”
Admit it or not, every racehorse owner aches for a shot to win the Kentucky Derby. Although Todd hasn’t had a horse run for the roses yet, he has the next best thing in Gutierrez.
“Mario said when he walked out of the tunnel onto the Churchill Downs track and they were playing ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ I’ll Have Another had his head down, calm, nothing bothered him. He’s a pure pro. He walked into the gate like he was at Santa Anita with no people there.”
There was a celebration planned Sunday for Guttierez at Hastings. The scenic track is nestled on 180 acres leased from the city of Vancouver, with whom the racetrack has an operating agreement. There is stabling for 950 runners that race from April to October. The dirt track is five-eighths of a mile, and fans enjoy free admission to the races. There is a racino with 600 slots on site.
Hastings is legendary among horseplayers because of its industry-beating across-the-board low takeouts. It’s well known among racetrack managers because it has been able to crack the nut of attracting a young, enthusiastic racing audience.
Raj Mutti, the track’s general manager, reinforced the community’s support of Guttierez’s journey. “We had a huge crowd here at Hastings for the Derby, over 8,000 in attendance,” he said. “We expect an ever bigger crowd for the Preakness.”
He continued: “Everyone has gotten behind Mario, cheering him on. The local media is all over it – he’s been on every single TV station and radio show locally. It’s been a great story and great for Mario getting credit for the ride, and, a bunch of chatter about the racetrack as well.”
According to Todd, a Hastings pundit told him that last Saturday, when the crowd left Hastings Racecourse after raucously celebrating I’ll Have Another’s Derby victory and the brilliant ride of Gutierrez, it was the first time since the track’s founding in 1889, that everyone left the track happy.