Mario Gutierrez has done it again.
The Mexican-born jockey – who lived in South Surrey while racing at Hastings Park before moving south to Pasadena, Calif. – won his second Kentucky Derby title in as many attempts Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., beating the field aboard the pre-race favourite, Nyquist.
Gutierrez won the 2012 Kentucky Derby aboard I’ll Have Another, but he had not been back to the prestigious race since. With his win Saturday, he became the first jockey in 118 years to win his first two Kentucky Derbies.
“It’s unreal… It’s unbelievable,” Gutierrez said on the NBC broadcast after the race, while also thanking his wife, horse trainer Doug O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam.
O’Neill and Reddam were also trainer and owner, respectively, of I’ll Have Another, which followed the Derby win with victory at The Preakness Stakes, before being scratched from the Belmont Stakes, thus ending the Triple Crown run.
On Saturday, Gutierrez and Nyquist started the race from the No. 13 position, and quickly moved into the lead group with fellow contenders Danzing Candy and Exaggerator.
On the stretch run of the one-and-a-quarter mile race, Gutierrez made a move to the front, and pulled away in the final few hundred yards. Nyquist won by one-and-a-quarter lengths. Exaggerator placed second and Gun Runner ended third.
Gutierrez – whom broadcasters praised as “being as cool as ice” during the race – called Nyquist “an amazing horse” after crossing the finish line. The horse is undefeated in his eight-race career, and will look to extend the streak at the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown.
South Surrey horse-owner Glen Todd – for whom Gutierrez rode during his time at Hastings Park Racecourse – said his protege “rode a great race” and was lucky enough to have a lightning-quick horse, too.
“You’ve got to have a great horse to win – you can’t win without it,” said Todd, who watched the race from a viewing party at Hastings Park.
“Mario was very, very patient. He waited and waited, and then sprung it. It was a huge crowd (at Hastings Park) and when he took the lead there and pulled away, the place just went nuts.”
Todd said Gutierrez was planning to return to the Lower Mainland this summer, and was set to race for Todd on Canada Day at Hastings Park.
Todd said Gutierrez called him about an hour after his win on Saturday, and was just as excited about it as he was in 2012, when he – a relative unknown – rode I’ll Have Another to victory over favoured horse, Bodemeister.
“Winning never gets old – you never get used to it,” Todd said. “I’m pretty happy for him.”