Mario Gutierrez’s fairytale journey that has carried him to within one victory of the Triple Crown almost never happened. The 25-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico, who rode regularly at Hastings Park from 2006 -2011, was so homesick for Vancouver, British Columbia that he nearly left California despite having just won the Santa Anita Derby aboard I’ll Have Another.
When Troy Taylor, one of Hastings’ top trainers, brought a string down to Southern California last year, Gutierrez came along to ride first call. Though Taylor left a few horses behind, the trainer pulled up stakes in April and was heading back to his base for opening day at Hastings when the rider asked to join him.
Matt Jukich, Hastings intertrack television host who was on a busman’s holiday Friday at Betfair Hollywood Park, picks up the story. “He wanted to jump in the car with Troy,” said Jukich. “It was (prominent Canadian owner and longtime Gutierrez supporter) Glen Todd who convinced Gutierrez to stay and stick it out.
“When he was riding there (Hastings), Mario was ‘Glenn’s rider,’ the leading rider and was getting on the best horses,” said Jukich It could have been easy for him to slide, but the fact he continued to work hard to make himself a better person is a great story.”
On Mother’s Day (May 13), Gutierrez headed back to Vancouver. “He needed some time to clear his head,” explained Jukich. “He had done so many interviews coast to coast after he won the Derby, he needed time to relax.”
Though he didn’t ride and was not paid an appearance fee by Hastings, Gutierrez was more than happy to join in the track’s celebration.
Word spread quickly about the jockey’s appearance. “People were lining up at 9 a.m. to get into the track,” said Jukich, the son of Hastings track announcer Dan Jukich. “It was crazy there all day. The two major newspapers were there, two of the minor ones and at least a half dozen radio stations.
“Mario went to the backstretch early in the morning to say hello to horsemen and friends. When he got to the track, his first stop was the jock’s room. Everyone in the room wanted their picture taken with him.
“One of the riders who had a big rivalry going with Mario, won the stakes on Sunday of Derby weekend and the first thing he did was say he wanted to congratulate Mario. That took a lot of class.
“Mario just wanted to thank the fans, he didn’t want it to be about him. I did an interview with him in the winner’s circle and all he could talk about was how great everyone had treated him during his time at Hastings and how much he appreciated Vancouver and all the support the people had given him.
After signing autographs and getting his picture taken for about 90 minutes outsider the winner’s circle, he went up to Glen’s box, signed some more cards, then went back downstairs later in the day and signed more memorabilia for about 45 minutes.
“As Glen Todd summed it up, ‘he’s done more for racing in the six days after the Derby than the rest of us have done in 20 years,’” relayed Jukich.
The stage is now set for a crack at the Triple Crown, which has eluded horse racing for 34 years, nine years before the rider was born. Judging by the way Gutierrez has handled the pressure of instant fame, New York will be just another rung of the ladder. One thing’s for certain as I’ll Have Another goes to the post in the Belmont Stakes; the hearts and minds of Vancouver’s racing community will be right alongside Mario Gutierrez in the starting gate.
I’LL HAVE ANOTHER EN ROUTE TO BELMONT PARK; THIS TIME MORA GOES
As expected, there was nothing but smiles around Doug O’Neill’s stable Sunday morning following I’ll Have Another’s gritty victory over Bodemeister in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. Betfair Hollywood Park is home to racing’s new star
“Winning the Derby was the best,” said jubilant assistant trainer Leandro Mora, “but the Preakness is like the cherry on top of the pie. It’s a great feeling, a super feeling. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone as assistant for this man. It’s a dream come true.”
Mora stayed at Betfair Hollywood Park to take care of the barn’s business during the Kentucky Derby and missed the Preakness because he wanted everything to be the same as the Derby. “Even if they put a gun to my head, this time I’m not going to stay here, I’m going to Belmont,” declared Mora. “Yesterday, I didn’t want to jinx the race. I wanted everything to be exactly the same. I had a chance to go, but didn’t. This time, I’m going.”
Winning the Derby means elite status, but sweeping the Triple Crown gives his connections immortality, a fact not lost on Mora.
“I’m still walking on the moon and I don’t know what else to say,’’ he said. “I talked to the crew back there today and everything is phenomenal. He’s traveling to New York this morning so he could settle over there and get ready. He cleaned up his dinner like a champion. And that’s what racing needs now, one true champion. We’re all expecting him to win.”
Two weeks, six days and counting until the Belmont Stakes.
JOEL ROSARIO’S BROTHER KILLED IN AUTO ACCIDENT
Condolences to Joel Rosario, whose brother Marino was killed in a traffic accident Saturday in the Dominican Republic. NBC disclosed the tragedy on its Preakness broadcast. Rosario rode Creative Cause to a third place finish in the Preakness, dedicating the race to his brother. The rider was off all his mounts Sunday.
“We’re giving Joel all the support we can in his time of mourning,” said agent Ronnie Ebanks. “I don’t really know any of the details of what happened, and out of respect for the family I don’t want to say too much. I just told Joel to take as much time as he needs and to not ride until he feels he’s ready. I’ll be talking to him more Monday.” Rosario is scheduled to travel to Santo Domingo today.
RAIL TRIP COULD MAKE 2012 DEBUT IN L.A. HANDICAP MAY 28
Trainer Ron Ellis said Sunday that 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip probably will return in the Los Angeles Handicap, which will be run Monday, May 28th. The Los Angeles and the Grade I $250,000 Gamely Stakes highlight the Memorial Day program.
“There’s a good chance I’ll run him in there,” said Ellis. “We’re better off getting a race into him now. He grabbed a quarter out of the gate and tore off half of his foot in his last race in New York (Nov. 17, 2011 at Aqueduct).
“The foot gave me more trouble growing out than I thought it would. So we’re getting a little bit of a late start and that put us out of sync with the stakes here. That was basically the only difference since I had him before. He came back in pretty good shape, other than that. And that was nobody’s fault, it just happened.”
“So we’re on Plan B. We’re kind of evolving our plan with him now. We’ll get a race into him and see where we are. My goal now is the San Diego Handicap (early in the Del Mar meet, which begins July 18). He’s run well enough with these sprinters and it looks like seven-eighths might be good a month after this one. So we’ll go six (furlongs), seven and then a mile and one-sixteenth. We’re going to do it gradually.”
In 2010 Rail Trip captured the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and Californian at Betfair Hollywood Park before being sent to New York following a second place finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup. The son of Jump Start was winless in five starts for trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr.
ADAM KITCHINGMAN ELATED WITH BODAWAY’S MAIDEN VICTORY
Adam Kitchingman, who has a history of locating auction bargains, apparently has found another nugget with Bodaway, an impressive maiden winner Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park. The son of Suances was making his second start. Purchased for $2,500 at the Barretts October Yearling sale, Bodaway sped 4 ½ furlongs in:51 3/5 to win by daylight with little urging from jockey Joe Talamo.
“We expected him to win first time out but he got into a lot of trouble,” said Kitchingman by phone Sunday. According to the official race description of his debut, Bodaway “lugged out and steadied at the three-eighths.”
“We were very confident yesterday. He’s bred to run on anything; grass, synthetic, so we’re very excited about him.”
Kitchingman indicated he wanted to see how Bodaway came out of the race before deciding whether to run in the $100,000 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes, June 16th.
CLOSING STRIDES —l’ll Have Another’s Preakness victory gave Doug O’Neill an early birthday present. The trainer turns 44 Thursday……..The three favorites in yesterday’s Marjorie L. Everett Handicap, Include Me Out, Ellafitz and Zazu, came back in good shape. Include Me Out and Zazu remain on track for the Grade I $250,000 Vanity Handicap June 16th, while Ellafitz’s status is undetermined……. John Shirreffs reports that he wants to see how Mr. Commons trains this week, but is leaning toward running the multiple stakes winner in the Grade II $150,000 American Handicap at one mile on turf Saturday, May 26th. Shirreffs also will saddle Nereid in the Gamely Stakes two days later…….. Dan Ward , assistant trainer to Jerry Hollendorfer , declared Capital Plan and City to City set to go for the Gamely…..….Jockey Alonso Quinonez was off his mounts Sunday due to some soreness in his right ankle. Quinonez was unseated by Love Theway Youare at the start of the Majorie L. Everett Handicap….Betfair Hollywood Park begins a five-day week Thursday, culminating with the Memorial Day card Monday…….Heading into Sunday’s races, 38 players were alive in the Show Me the Money Contest.
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