Thrust from relative anonymity to the national spotlight with a
victory aboard I’ll Have Another in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby,
Mario Gutierrez has not only kept his ego in check, he’s thoroughly
enjoying the whirlwind ride.
The 25-year-old learned to ride from his father, Mario Gutierrez,
Sr., a quarter horse trainer, in Veracruz, Mexico. On a visiting
Canadian trainer’s advice, the younger Gutierrez made his way to
Hastings Park, where he started his career as an apprentice in 2006. He
soon hooked up with one of Hastings’ premier trainers, Troy Taylor, and
the pair enjoyed great success. When Taylor was ready to try Southern
California, he invited Gutierrez along. Taylor returned to Canada this
year but persuaded the rider to remain.
Through a series of “right place, right time” events, Gutierrez got
to ride I’ll Have Another to victory in the Santa Anita Derby and
despite pressure to get a more experienced pilot, owner J. Paul Reddam
stuck with Gutierrez and was rewarded with a victory in the world’s most
Since his Derby win, Gutierrez has been on the ride of a lifetime. He’s been interviewed by ESPN and various other media outlets, attended his first NBA game (Lakers-Nuggets Tuesday night at Staples Center) and threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night.
“That was a lot of fun,” smiled the jockey. “I got the ball across
the plate and everyone was cheering. I went up to the Spanish broadcast
booth later and met Fernando Valenzuela,” referring to the former star
pitcher for the Dodgers.
By Thursday, it was evident Gutierrez was starting to show effects
from the long week. “I didn’t get home until 11 p.m. last night. It’s
hard to say no to anyone and I’m doing my best to make everyone happy.
But I don’t want my life to change. I just want to get back to riding.”
Gutierrez will have his chance in Friday night’s first race at Betfair
Hollywood Park, where he’ll ride Blake for trainer Vladimir Cerin. He
finally got some help Wednesday when Gary Stevens’ wife, Angie, offered
to answer his phone and take over his scheduling.
Gutierrez has kept what amounts to a journal on his twitter page
(@Mario_Hastings), making it easy to understand why everyone’s rooting
Three weeks after winning the Santa Anita Derby, he was happy that
he was approaching 200 followers. “3 followers away from 200 ?,” the
Before heading to the airport, his enthusiasm increased. “My breeze
went great this morning 1:13 4/5, catching my flight tomorrow for
He also tweeted a photo at the post position draw for the Derby and
just before he rode his first race at Churchill Downs that Friday, he
paid his respects by saying, “Riding with the best of the best.”
After he won the Derby, he still seemed amazed people were paying
attention to him. He wrote, “OMG, almost 1000 followers ?” He spent
much of the next week trying to thank as many fans, friends and trainers
via Twitter that he could fit into the day.
But as he soon found out, it’s hard to keep a low profile when you’re that much in demand.