Former South Surrey jockey wins first two legs of Triple Crown
He'll have another.
One-time South Surrey jockey Mario Gutierrez, who now lives and races primarily in Southern California, is one win away from the horse racing's rare Triple Crown, after he and Canadian-owned horse I'll Have Another won The Preakness Stakes Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
I'll Have Another and Gutierrez, who raced for South Surrey horse owner Glen Todd at Hastings Park Racecourse – and lived at Todd's South Surrey home – before moving to the United States, won the Kentucky Derby earlier this month, and now set their sights on New York's Belmont Stakes in three weeks, looking to become the first to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
After his Derby victory, Gutierrez, 25, returned to the Lower Mainland to visit friends, and admitted all the attention – from hundreds of media requests to an autograph-signing event at Hastings Park that drew thousands – was a new phenomenon for him.
"I usually try to avoid the attention as much as possible, as much as I can," he said at the time. "But at Hastings… I was not expecting that."
No return appearances are planned between now and the June 9 Belmont Stakes, said Todd Tuesday, adding that the spotlight has increased tenfold since Saturday's win "now that Mario's a huge star."
In the Kentucky Derby, Gutierrez and I'll Have Another chased down pre-race favourite Bodemeister to cross the line first, and the situation was much the same Saturday at Pimlico, though far closer. As in Kentucky, Bodemeister was the pace-setter, running in the lead nearly from the start, while I'll Have Another sat back in fourth place in the 11-horse field.
Then, with the final furlong approaching, I'll Have Another and Gutierrez began the pursuit of Bodemeister, ridden by hall-of-fame jockey Mike Smith, and caught the lead horse with mere metres to go, winning by a neck, finishing the one-and-three-sixteenth mile course in one minute, 55.94 seconds.
Todd, watching the Preakness from Hastings Park with friends, admitted he was unsure if Gutierrez would be able to pull off the come-from-behind victory.
"About halfway through, I wasn't sure. I didn't know where the wire (finish line) was, and I thought maybe he'd run out of (track)… it wasn't until I saw the last post that I knew he still had a chance to catch him," he said. "But it was close."
Since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, 11 other horses have won the first two legs of Triple Crown, most recently Big Brown in 2008 and Smarty Jones in 2005.
Gutierrez and I'll Have Another will have a whole new set of challengers at the Belmont, as Bodemeister – who was the pre-race favourite at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness – and the rest of the field from Pimlico will not be competing at the New York race.
"It's a whole new group, but Mario's got the momentum, like it's meant to be," Todd said. "He's going to win the Triple Crown, I really believe that. This whole thing has been like a dream for him, so now he's just got to finish off that dream."