Four years after he won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, former South Surrey jockey Mario Gutierrez is taking another run at horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The 29-year-old Gutierrez – who grew up racing horses in Mexico before being discovered and brought to Vancouver’s Hastings Park Racecourse by South Surrey racehorse-owner Glen Todd – is back in the spotlight this spring, thanks to an impressive string of victories in the U.S. aboard a horse named Nyquist.
Nyquist is owned by J. Paul Reddam and trained by Doug O’Neill – the same people who worked with Gutierrez and his champion horse, I’ll Have Another in 2012 – and so far has won all seven of his races with Gutierrez aboard.
The pair are currently considered the No. 1 contender for the prestigious Kentucky Derby, which is set for May 7.
“It’s amazing, just amazing,” said Todd, who still keeps in close contact with Gutierrez, who now lives in Pasadena, Calif. “I talk to him four or five times a week. He’s doing great. He just bought a house, he got married, he’s having a baby. He’s doing well.”
Gutierrez gained international attention during his spectacular run of victories aboard I’ll Have Another in 2012.
After an somewhat improbable win in Kentucky, in which Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another defeated the pre-race favourite Bodemeister, the pair won the second leg of the Triple Crown with a victory at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.
In between races, Gutierrez – whom Todd lauded as “a gifted jockey” after his Kentucky Derby win – became the face of the sport, appearing on late-night talk shows, scooping a handful of endorsements and throwing out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game.
A Triple Crown title was not to be, however, as I’ll Have Another was a late scratch from the final event, the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y., due to tendonitis in the horse’s left front leg.
It was the last-ever race for I’ll Have Another, who was retired to stud soon after.
Until that point, no horse had won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, though the streak ended last year when American Pharaoh took first place in all three races.
Since 2012, Gutierrez has rode a slew of fast horses, but none with the same success he’s found with Nyquist, who is named after Detroit Red Wings’ player Gustav Nyquist.
“He’s racing big-time races down (in the U.S.),” said Todd, one of Canada’s most successful horse owners.
Earlier this month, Gutierrez told the New York Times he has “so much confidence” in Nyquist.
“I feel like I know him a lot,” he said.
If Gutierrez wins the Kentucky Derby, he will join a select group of jockeys to have won the event multiple times – a list that includes legendary names such as Eddie Arcaro and Bill Shoemaker, both of whom won five derby titles.
“He was a great jockey before, but he’s a world-class jockey now,” said Todd.