The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Jockey Mario Gutierrez
Mario Gutierrez turned in a flawless ride to capture the 138th Kentucky Derby aboard Reddam Racing’s I’ll Have Another, guiding the Flower Alley colt to a ground-saving trip from the 19 post position, avoiding traffic throughout, and catching front-running Bodemeister in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by 1 1/4 lengths. It was the first time in the history of the race that a horse starting from post 19 has won.
For Gutierrez, it was his first time at the Kentucky Derby. His initial Grade 1 victory came aboard the Doug O’Neill-trained I’ll Have Another a month earlier in the Santa Anita Derby.
Gutierrez, a 25-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico, has been riding horses for almost a dozen years, following in the footsteps of his father, Mario Gutierrez Hernandez, riding Quarter horses at the age of 14, then moving to Mexico City, where a visiting Canadian horsemen convinced him to venture north to Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2006.
There he latched onto trainer Troy Taylor and owner Glen Todd, who not only gave Gutierrez opportunities to ride but took the young man under their wing and made sure he didn’t fall prey to the temptations that can ruin a young jockey’s career.
What has been the best part of winning the Kentucky Derby?
The best part is just making my family happy. It makes my mom and dad very proud, and that’s very important to me more than anything else. I’ve even made the people in Vancouver happy. All those people who have supported me, especially Troy Taylor and Glen Todd. For three years I shared a house with them. Two and a half men they called us. We were characters.
What are some things you’ve done since Saturday’s win?
There’s been a lot of press – radio interviews, television, newspapers, radio, from Vancouver and all around the country. And I went to my first basketball game, the Lakers. I met some famous people, including the daughter of the owner of the Lakers. I’m going to the Dodgers to throw out the first pitch tonight. All of these things I had never dreamed of doing.
How is your life different today than it was five years ago?
I try not to change. I want to be the same guy, but since the Kentucky Derby I haven’t even had time to celebrate, have dinner with my friends. None of this could have happened without those people.
What were your expectations going to Churchill Downs. Had you talked to other jockeys or trainers to get some idea of what it would be like?
I didn’t really ask for any advice. Some people came and talked to me, my agent (Ivan Puhich) said don’t be afraid to cry when they play “My Old Kentucky Home.” He said it’s OK to be nervous. I prepared myself for that. I think it helped prepare me to be strong. I talked to my friends; they said just be yourself, enjoy the moment. I was so focused, so confident. I put high expectations on myself. I put all 150,000 people there to the side. I didn’t pay any attention to them. All I could think of was the race, and my horse.
After it was over, it all hit me, the tears. I couldn’t hold it any longer. I just finally broke down.
What do you remember about the actual race? Could you hear the crowd at all down the stretch?
I didn’t hear anything. When I watched the NBC replay, I said, “Oh my God.” It wasn’t until then that I realized how those people were screaming. I heard the crowd when I came back to the winner’s circle. All the emotions really hit me … thinking of my family, thinking where I was seven years ago, coming from a poor family, I feel so fortunate just to have the opportunity to ride a horse like I’ll Have Another. A jockey without a horse, we’re nothing. I give all the credit to the horse.
Were you surprised you got toward the rail so early in the race?
I thought there was no way it could have happened. I think God was on my side. I couldn’t have a better day then I had.
Are you superstitious in any way? Do you go through a regular routine before a race?
Not really. I knew I needed to prepare myself. I was just so focused on the race. I did my homework. I watched replays. I probably watched 100 different replays of past Kentucky derbies. I didn’t watch the whole race, but mostly from the start to the first turn.
Doug and I went to the (Kentucky Derby) museum, and we watched the Derbies from 1999 to 2011. I wanted to find the perfect spot. I wanted to know what might happen.
What was it like when you had a chance to talk with your parents?
There were more tears. Mom was crying, dad was crying. My brother was in tears. It just made me so happy. I still just can’t believe I have won the Kentucky Derby.
I am so happy Glen kept pointing me in the right direction. I am so grateful to my mom and dad. They took me as far as they could, they kept us happy. Glen and Troy gave me the opportunity to give my family a chance to live better. They gave me a chance to buy my mom a house. That’s a great comfort to me. Glen and Troy gave me the opportunity.
Troy was like my second dad. When I started making money, I could easily have gone the wrong way. I am so lucky I had the right people in my life. They always pointed me in the right direction.
What is on your schedule between now and the Preakness?
I’m riding in California, then I am hoping to go to Vancouver, then to Baltimore. I have to put a lot of the celebrating to the side. It’s not over yet. I want to prove to people I can do this, and I have 100% confidence in this horse.