BALTIMORE – Mario Gutierrez has been on the phone constantly since winning the Kentucky Derby aboard I’ll Have Another.
Most of the messages are from friends and family, offering congratulations after the victory that lifted the jockey from Mexico from obscurity.
Gutierrez is still waiting for the calls offering him more mounts.
That could change after Saturday, if I’ll Have Another wins the Preakness and moves into position for a run at the Triple Crown.
So far, the Derby victory hasn’t raised the soft-spoken rider’s profile. Gutierrez is still trying to crack the deep jockey colony in Southern California.
He got the Derby mount on a whim after making a favorable impression on owner Paul Reddam. Impressed by how Gutierrez rode a race at Santa Anita, Reddam decided to give the newcomer a chance.
“This is kind of a step out of the box,” Reddam said. “It’s one of those weird intuitions that you get. It’s amazing when it works out, which isn’t too often I suppose.”
The horse and rider tandem clicked immediately. They are unbeaten in three races since teaming up, a string that includes the Santa Anita Derby.
That success hasn’t opened many doors for Gutierrez.
“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.”
Last weekend he had only four mounts at Hollywood Park.
A breakout is only a matter of time, said Doug O’Neill, I’ll Have Another’s trainer.
“Mario is the closest thing to Rafael Bejarano who many of you are familiar with,” O’Neill said. “He’s a finesse rider who is able to get the horse to drop the bit and relax. When he calls on them, they want to grab the bit and take off. Some guys have it and some don’t, and Mario has it. And he’s such a confident, calm jockey. It won’t be long before his business picks up.”
Until then, Gutierrez is focusing on the Preakness, where I’ll Have Another is the 5-2 second choice from post No. 9.
OUT OF ACTION
Guyana Star Dweej was withdrawn from Preakness consideration because of a left-front-foot injury.
He was battling a quarter crack, an injury to the hoof wall.
“It was still not properly healed,” trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal said . “… So we decided we’re going to have to skip this one.”
Only 1-for-9, Guyana Star Dweej would have been the longest shot in the Preakness. He has never run in a stakes and finished second most recently in an allowance race at Belmont.
Julien Leparoux will be back aboard Daddy Nose Best for the Preakness.
They have been an effective team, combining to win the El Camino Real Derby and the Sunland Park Derby. Leparoux was in the saddle for all four of the colt’s wins.
They split up for the Derby with Leparoux opting to ride Union Rags. It didn’t work well for either party.
After a terrible start, Union Rags rallied to get seventh. Daddy Nose Best ran 10th with Garrett Gomez aboard.
They are now reunited, thanks to a late decision by owner Bob Zollars in consultation with trainer Steve Asmussen.
“We feel like he completely bounced back,” Zollars said. “He’s very perky so we think he’s ready to run again.”
Asmussen will be looking for his third Preakness win following Curlin (2007) and the filly Rachel Alexandra (2009).
Daddy Nose Best was 12-1 from post No. 8.
Creative Cause, fifth in the Derby, completed a lengthy round trip when he flew into Baltimore for the Preakness.
He returned to California following the Derby and caught a 5 a.m. (PDT) flight for the trip East.
“He’s a good traveler,” trainer Mike Harrington said.
Creative Cause will have to be. This is his third flight from the West Coast, having shipped to Churchill Downs to run third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November.
He was 6-1, a co-third choice with Went the Day Well, from post No. 6.