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Gutierrez Excited About Santa Anita Derby

Six years ago, a teenage Mario Gutierrez was in the Great White North, trying to eke out a living and keep warm in frigid outposts like Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, quite an adjustment for a native of sunny Mexico.

 

Fast forward to Feb. 4, 2012. Gutierrez rides I’ll Have Another to a smashing 2 ¾-length victory at 43-1 in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at historic Santa Anita Park and thrusts himself firmly into the Triple Crown picture.

 

Next up: Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, the West’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 5. Gutierrez has to pinch himself to believe this fairytale ride.

 

“This is a great opportunity,” said the 25-year-old Gutierrez, whose agent is 85-year-old ex-Marine Ivan Puhich. “I’m very excited. I came here not expecting this kind of thing to happen to me. I was hoping it would eventually, but coming this soon makes me very happy.

 

“It’s every rider’s dream to run in the Kentucky Derby and I’m no different. I think I would have a good chance with my horse, if he does well in the Santa Anita Derby.

 

“I’ve worked him a few times and he’s training good. I worked him before I won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, I worked him at Santa Anita after that between races and I worked him at Hollywood. I just hope everything goes well on Saturday.

 

“I started riding in Mexico City and rode there for eight months. Then I moved to Canada in 2006 and that’s where I rode most of the time for trainer Troy Taylor before coming to California to ride for him when he brought horses to Santa Anita.

 

“It was bitter cold in Canada, so it’s a huge difference riding in Southern California. The tracks in Canada are small. Santa Anita is the real deal.”

 

Early on at Santa Anita, Gutierrez caught the educated eye of prominent horseman J. Paul Reddam, who owns I’ll Have Another, and suggested that trainer Doug O’Neill give him a chance on the chestnut son of Flower Alley.

 

Understandably, Gutierrez, who had 10 wins from 99 rides at Santa Anita through Saturday, has benefited from the wealth of knowledge and experience Puhich brings to the game.

 

“I just met Ivan a couple months ago,” Gutierrez said. “I’m very happy. He’s good people. Everybody knows him. He’s a little bit old but that doesn’t bother him at all.”

 

Hardly. “I started as an agent when I was 15 years old in Seattle, where I also was galloping horses,” Puhich said. “I joined the Marine Corps in 1945.”

 

That was good news for Uncle Sam. Nearly seven decades later, Puhich is good news for Mario Gutierrez.

 

In other Santa Anita Derby news:

 

Impressive maiden winner Paynter worked “super good” Sunday at Hollywood Park, according to Bob Baffert assistant Jim Barnes. The son of Awesome Again worked seven furlongs in 1:25.20, handily from the gate. Barnes said that Baffert’s other two Derby candidates, Liaison and Blueskiesnrainbows, are scheduled to work five furlongs tomorrow at Santa Anita.

 

With his recent workouts “over the top,” trainer Jim Cassidy said promising maiden Brother Francis likely would gallop into the Santa Anita Derby.

 

Probable for the Santa Anita Derby: Brother Francis, Garrett Gomez; Blueskiesnrainbows; Baby Blake; Creative Cause, Joel Rosario; Liaison, Rafael Bejarano; Midnight Transfer, Mike Smith; I’ll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez; Longview Drive; Paynter; and Senor Rain.

 

 

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