What’s Mario Gutierrez’s Story?

As we await the potentially thrilling end of a 34-year Triple Crown drought, we owe it to ourselves to get to know I’ll Have Another’s soft-spoken, all-credit-to-the-horse jockey, Mario Gutierrez.

Ten of the top Gutierrez stories (and videos):

1. Gutierrez, 25, whose father, Mario, Sr., was also a jockey, grew up racing Quarter Horses in Veracruz, Mexico. [Vancouver Sun]

2. At 19, with the help of then-agent Wayne Snow, Gutierrez made the move to Vancouver’s Hastings Park racetrack, where he was the leading apprentice in 2006 and a top jockey thereafter. [Hastings Park]

3. He went West to California last fall, meeting his now-agent, 85-year-old ex-marine Ivan Puhich, at a garage barbecue near Santa Anita. Having recently overcome colon cancer and depression, Puhich had been out of the game for a year when Gutierrez’s riding inspired him to take on the virtually unknown jockey’s book and land an influential workout on the Doug O’Neill-trained colt, I’ll Have Another. Gutierrez then sealed the deal with a nearly three-length win in the Robert Lewis Stakes in February at odds of 43-1. [DRF]

4. “When we asked him to come work the horse—and he worked brilliantly—he told his agent, Ivan Puhich, on the way home, ‘I will never ride that horse again,'” O’Neill said. “Ivan said, ‘Why did you say that?’ And Mario told him, ‘That’s a runnin’ son-of-a-gun, there’s no way they’re going to put me on him.'” [ESPN]

5. But both O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam agreed that the proof was in performance: Gutierrez’s calm, soft-handed riding suited their colt, and by the time the Santa Anita Derby rolled around, odds on the pair had dropped to 4-1. “The colt with the catchy name won’t be overlooked any longer after winning the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby by a nose Saturday and positioning himself as one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby next month.” [Santa Anita]

6. Despite their Santa Anita Derby performance, Gutierrez, a Triple Crown rookie, and I’ll Have Another headed into the Kentucky Derby at 15-1 odds, overshadowed by favorites like Bodemeister, Hansen and Union Rags even after their gritty, nail-biting, wire-closing win. “I’ll Have Another was lucky to barely beat Bodemeister in the final moments at Churchill Downs, but the Derby winner won’t be so fortunate at Pimlico,” wrote the Bleacher Report’s Nicholas Goss. [BR]

7. And in the weeks following the Derby, Gutierrez’s book stayed pretty open. “I’m still not riding that many horses,” Gutierrez said. “Everybody knows that California racing has top trainers and top jockeys. I’m just glad to be riding with them. I am getting a lot of calls, but not to ride.” [Sports Illustrated]

8. But that was before the Preakness, when Bodemeister and jockey Mike Smith went off the favorites and set a relatively easy pace only to find themselves beaten at the wire a second time. By then, the Bleacher Report had changed their tune: “In both rides, Gutierrez has proven he can handle any situation and give his mount the best chance to win. You better believe the entire sporting world has taken notice.

“Gutierrez is now going to be one of the most sought-after jockeys in the sport. He is going to have his choice of quality rides and he will get the most out of them.” [BR]

9. “The horse deserves the credit,” Gutierrez told the Thoroughbred Times of their Preakness victory. “He earned it. He never got a lucky trip.  He has proven himself in the run. I just want to prepare. I want to be on the same level as him. He’s an amazing horse, and I’m happy to be riding him.” [TT]

10. With three weeks until he Belmont, every fan of horse racing is speculating: Will history be made? Steve Cauthen, the last jockey to win the Triple Crown on Affirmed in 1978, likes their chances: “ ‘I guess I’m having a flashback,’ Cauthen told The Associated Press May 20 from his breeding farm in Verona, Ky. ‘He’s a new kid on the block like I was. The kid’s got a great attitude and a great smile. And, like me, he’s been put in a position to ride in these kinds of races and a shot at maybe winning the Triple Crown. And the trainer and owner (Doug O’Neill and Paul Reddam) have confidence in him.’ ” [Blood-Horse]

Go Mario.

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