Super Mario went from obscurity to international hero in just over two minutes.
Jockey Mario Gutierrez’s Kentucky Derby victory aboard I’ll Have Another made him an instant sensation – and a star in both his native Mexico and his adopted home of Vancouver, B.C. His Preakness victory caught the attention of American fans, too, and showed the Derby win wasn’t a fluke.
Now, Gutierrez, 25, is one victory from the Triple Crown, horse racing’s greatest prize.
“I think he has something left to show people,” Gutierrez said of I’ll Have Another. “To be on his back, it’s such a wonderful feeling. He loves to fight, he loves to win, and he knows exactly where the wire is.”
It’s his first trip to New York, and Gutierrez said he has no worries about Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. And why should he? All he’s done on the California colt is win. Together, they’re 4 for 4.
“I believe in him 100 percent,” Gutierrez said. “He’s the one who got me where I am right now. He gives me that confidence.”
Post positions will be drawn today for the 144th running of the 11/2-mile Belmont, and a field of 12 is expected.
It’s all new to Gutierrez, who was an unknown in California a year ago. He had been riding at Hastings Park in Vancouver, B.C.
“When I was growing up (near Veracruz), I only knew about quarter horse racing,” Gutierrez said. “I didn’t know much about thoroughbreds at all.”
A Hastings trainer recruited Gutierrez to switch breeds and ride in Canada. After several years in Vancouver, Gutierrez moved last fall to Southern California to ride at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.
After several tough months with few victories, Gutierrez was ready to return to Vancouver when Paul Reddam, I’ll Have Another’s owner, spotted him aboard a long-shot winner. Reddam suggested to trainer Doug O’Neill to try Gutierrez on I’ll Have Another. Since the switch, they’ve teamed to win four stakes, including the Santa Anita Derby as well as the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
“I can’t be thankful enough to them,” Gutierrez said. “They didn’t have to stick with me, but they kept me on their horse and gave me this wonderful opportunity. They’ve been so supportive.”
Said O’Neill, “He’s programmed in such a calm, confident way that I know he’s just kind of soaking it all up. … He’s enjoying every bit of it, and I’m not concerned at all that (the Triple Crown) will overwhelm him or zap his energy or his abilities at all.”