The 25-year-old Mexican, via Vancouver, Canada has been nothing short of a revelation since hooking up with Doug O’Neill and his Kentucky Derby winning colt. And Gutierrez (pronounced goo-tee-air-rez) is likely to be heard from again and again and again.
“Everybody who comes to California wants to get [Rafael] Bejarano or [Joel] Rosario,” said O’Neill, trainer of Derby winning I’ll Have Another, on Thursday’s NTRA national conference call.
“I like jocks that are under the radar screen. I was so glad when Paul [owner Reddam] brought up the fact that he watched [Mario] and liked him. It was OK with me.”
It has been OK with Reddam, and certainly OK with the colt, Gutierrez now three-for-three aboard the son of Flower Alley.
The first hint that Gutierrez might be special and wise beyond his years came in the Santa Anita Derby when Gutierrez rode the colt with such confidence that he seemed to show disdain for his competition, including odds-on favorite Creative Cause.
“He knew where he was,” O’Neill explained of the tactics that kept I’ll Have Another wide, in the middle of the track and clear of potential trouble, but allowing Creative Cause to get the all-important first run jump to the finish.
“He rode on a bull ring [Hastings Park] and he’s used to tight riding. He wanted [Creative Cause] inside of him, wanting to engage him after they got into the stretch run.”
“He’s unbelievably awesome, Gutierrez said of his mount. “He lets me do everything I want, he’s that kind of classy.
“[In the Preakness] I may have to stay closer to Bodemeister [if the Derby runnerup is entered and faces no pace pressure]. It depends on the post position we draw,” said the rider, knowing that he needs to keep all his options open.
Since riding the Derby winner six days ago, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. He threw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game—O’Neill is scheduled to do the same when the Yankees ship to Baltimore Tuesday night—and got to hang with Fernando Valenzuela.
So, life has changed? “Absolutely, talking to you at this press conference. I try not to say no, but it’s a little tiring. I’m enjoying it now but I have a big race coming up in 13 days [after Derby]. Racing is my career, I want to be focused for the race coming up.”
And Gutierrez has allowed time for reflection as well. “I will never forget where I came from, the opportunity Vancouver gave me, an opportunity to bring my family a better life. I will never forget that,” again adding, “I have to prepare myself for the next race.”
Part of that preparation will be getting to Baltimore before Preakness day, never having ridden at Pimlico. If that’s something that concerns the young rider, he’s certainly not letting on:
“I never rode at Pimlico so hopefully I’ll try to go there a little earlier. But all tracks are the same; they have dirt on them and you go around in a circle.”
“It’s a good personality match,” said O’Neill of the collaboration, also not showing undue concern for the attention Gutierrez has been receiving since last Saturday evening.
“He’s a great person and he’s wired differently. He’s wired for calm and goes [about his business] in a confident way. We’ve talked a lot about how amazing this run is.”
Both O’Neill and Gutierrez have great respect for the competition. “I’d want an easier spot,” O’Neill said, admitting that it would be fine with him if Bodemeister were to skip the party in Baltimore.
“I have a lot of respect for Bodemeister and his connections but I think my colt is good enough. Bodemeister has been consistent, his Arkansas Derby amazing, but my colt has done nothing but win this year.”
Gutierrez sees it basically the same, only differently. “It’s not over yet and I have to stay focused. I have a lot of respect for Bodemeister but [my horse] got there. I know it’s going to be a great race, but I have no doubts about it. I’ll Have Another’s going to win his race.”