Mario Gutierrez is still relatively young at 29-years-old, but he’s already risen to national prominence by virtue of two wins in America’s most famous race; the Kentucky Derby. In 2012 he won with longshot I’ll Have Another, and this year he added another feather to his cap with Nyquist, with whom he won his first ever Breeders’ Cup race (the 2015 Juvenile). Both of those horses were trained by Doug O’Neill and owned by J. Paul Reddam, who discovered the naturally talented rider himself.
Gutierrez, the son of a jockey, had the racing bug bite him at a young age. By the time he was seven Gutierrez knew how to ride a horse, and when he was 14 he began racing on quarter horses in his native Veracruz, Mexico. When he was 19, Gutierrez was discovered by Terry Jordan, a Canadian trainer based at Hastings Racecourse. Jordan invited Gutierrez to ride horses for him up north, and Gutierrez accepted.
Gutierrez compiled some very successful seasons at Hastings, winning at over a 20% clip, but the purse money there is much less than at other more prestigious tracks. Gutierrez got an opportunity to pilot some horses for Glen Todd, a Canadian-based owner, at Santa Anita Park in 2011, and that’s when he was discovered by Reddam.
“I remember looking at him riding in the stretch and the way that he was positioned on the horse and the way he moved with the horse and I said, ‘Boy, that kid looks like he can ride to me,’” Reddam told the Washington Times in a 2012 interview.
Reddam then named Gutierrez to ride I’ll Have Another in the 2012 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and Gutierrez pulled off a 43-1 upset aboard the colt. Two months later, Gutierrez guided I’ll Have Another to a Kentucky Derby victory, and two weeks after that the team captured the Preakness Stakes.
I’ll Have Another didn’t get a chance to compete in the Belmont Stakes due to a career-ending injury, but Gutierrez’ career did not fade away with that horse; he continues to impress the greats and the contemporaries of the sport.
Steve Cauthen, a former jockey who’s best remembered for winning the Triple Crown aboard Affirmed in 1978, has taken notice of Gutierrez’ talent. “I’ve been very impressed with his demeanor, his attitude,” the former rider said in a 2012 interview with the Washington Times. “He’s 100 percent confident [in the horse]…I think that’s a great attitude to have.”
Gary Mandella, a California-based trainer talking to The Globe and Mail in 2013, also recognizes Gutierrez’ ability. “He understands what the movements of his body do to a horse in the running of a race. Even riders that have a lot of success, they don’t understand how they’re influencing a horse. They don’t know their way around horses backwards and forwards…Mario, I think, really does.”
Gutierrez still has plenty to look forward to with Nyquist this year, and he’ll compile plenty of wins in the meantime. He’s on pace for about 80 wins this year, which would put him a bit short of his best ever stateside performance (104 last year), but he’s well on his way to eclipsing his best yearly earnings mark. Gutierrez has over $5.8 million in purses won already this year, and all of last year he had just over $6.3 million.
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