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Super Mario (Gutierrez) - Return To Hastings


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(A picture I took of Mario on his last return to Hastings)

I'll be heading to the track today to watch, Mario, my favourite jockey...I've followed his career since he first hopped on a horse at Hastings and it's really nice to see that he's stayed connected to the track that "raised" him as their own.

He was on Global Morning News this morning and never will you find a more humble, down to Earth young man. He is the pride of Hastings and will always be welcomed like he's coming home.

Good luck to Mario...while he's a league above the rest and has furthered his racing career beyond the rails at Hastings, it's nice to see that he's still keeping his edge here....there's a little "in house" competition today to see who wins the most races amongst he and his former colleagues and he takes it all in like he's just one of the group. No superstar attitude to speak of.

Welcome home Mario! He is the pride of BC in the racing circuit.

The story seemed too good to be true and maybe that’s the problem.

It was.

A little over a year ago, Mario Gutierrez was everywhere and they couldn’t get enough of the kid from Hastings Racecourse with the fairy-tale backstory and two career-making rides aboard I’ll Have Another.

There were TV appearances and countless stories in the international press. There was a book deal in the works and talk of a movie about his life. His Q-rating was off the charts and while it had been a while since the horse-racing game has produced a superstar jockey, it looked like Gutierrez was auditioning for the part.

As mentioned, that was a little over a year ago.

But where do you go when you’ve made the impossible journey Gutierrez made? Where do you go when the big wins aren’t there and the world seems to have grown tired of your story? This year, there was no Derby win for Gutierrez, no magical storyline, and the perception is his 15 minutes of fame had already expired.

But that’s the perception. The reality, as is often the case in these matters, isn’t quite as bleak.

“It’s taught me a lot and it opened a lot of doors,” Gutierrez says from Southern California, shortly before flying to Vancouver for Monday’s running of the B.C. Cup at Hastings. “That was a great horse and it changed my life. But it’s hard to find a horse like that.

“I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”

And he’s been doing just fine.

Act 2 of the Gutierrez story doesn’t have quite the sizzle as the first act but there is still substance to it, even if it doesn’t have quite the same audience. Since rebounding from a slow start in 2013, he’s established himself as one of the leading riders on the California circuit, sitting eighth among jockeys at Del Mar near San Diego which is three spots behind Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. Gutierrez also sits 84th on the overall money list with $1.75 million in earnings this year.

Maybe it isn’t the stuff of legends but it’s been a solid season for a jockey who doesn’t turn 27 until September.

“I’m happy,” Gutierrez says. “I’ve had some ups and downs but it’s been a good year.”

“He’s got better,” says Glen Todd, the Vancouver horseman who’s helped guide his career. “He’s more dedicated than ever and he’s turned into a real pro. He’s one of the top-10 jocks in North America. He’s where he should be.”

Todd, understand, isn’t the most objective source on this subject and there remains a deep connection between the veteran owner and the kid from Mexico. Todd gave Gutierrez his first break, putting him on horses in Vancouver when he was struggling to find rides. Gutierrez would eventually emerge as the top jockey at Hastings before migrating to California early in 2012 where his career arc intersected with I’ll Have Another.

Wins at the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness followed. But, with the horse and rider poised to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, I’ll Have Another came down with tendonitis before the Belmont and was scratched.

I’ll Have Another was owned by another Canadian horseman, Windsor’s J. Paul Reddam and following the success of horse and rider, Gutierrez began touring like a rock star. The itinerant schedule also led to a series of uninspired performances before Gutierrez relocated to California where he splits his time among Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar.

There his career has regained traction. There he’s found his purpose.

“People see I’m committed,” he says. “There are opportunities here for me.”

Still, Vancouver will always be considered home to Gutierrez and it says something about his commitment to Hastings, and to Todd, that he’s returning for the B.C. Cup. There, he’ll ride in five races which led to the following text exchange with his former boss.

Todd: “I’ve got you in (all) nine (races on Monday),”

Gutierrez: “That’s not funny.”

Gutierrez was also scheduled to ride four of Todd’s horses at Del Mar on Friday night and that raises an interesting possibility.

I’ll Have Another was originally sold for $13,000 before it turned into a super horse. It happened once. It might happen again and Todd was asked if putting Gutierrez on another champion would fulfil a dream of his.“You bet,” he says. “Nothing is impossible in this game. You just never know what can happen.”

He knows this to be true. So does Gutierrez.

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