Just one year ago, Mario Gutierrez  was watching the Kentucky Derby, dreaming of winning America's most famous race. Cut to Cinco de Mayo 2012, riding the horse “I’ll Have Another,” the Mexican jockey raced to victory on his first Kentucky Derby mount.
Gutierrez was born in Veracruz, Mexico  but built his professional jockey career in Canada. Since 2006, Gutierrez has been one of the leading riders at Hasting Race Course in Vancouver, winning riding titles in 2007, 2008 before coming up short for a third on the final day of the meeting last year.
For Gutiérrez, the road to the Kentucky Derby  has been an unexpected one. While every jockey dreams of riding in the sport’s biggest spectacle, the dream didn’t become reality for Gutiérrez until a couple of months ago.
“I come from a very small town, and my family didn’t have much money,” he explained. “I was racing quarter horses. I didn’t even know about thoroughbred racing really. I just knew I wanted to be a jockey like my dad.”
During his stint in Canada, Gutierrez was able to find rides in Northern California, and finally got a race at the famed Santa Anita. It was there that owner Paul Reddam first met Gutierrez and liked what he saw.
When Gutierrez was first introduced to I’ll Have Another, man and colt clicked. Trainer Doug O’Neill recognized the bond that seemed to form between the two and Reddam decided to give the pair a chance, a decision that paid off big time.
“As a jockey, you dream, you wish you’ll be there [at the Kentucky Derby], but you never expect it to happen,” Gutiérrez said. “Every jockey trains to go there and ride in that huge race. I’m so excited and so happy that it happened to me,” said Gutierrez.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who finished second in Saturday’s Derby aboard Bodemeister, rides with Gutierrez on the Southern California circuit.
“You know what, when you speak to him, there is nothing phony about this kid,” Smith said. “Probably one of the nicest kids you will meet. He is the kind of guy you root for. When I realized it was going to be him that was going to beat me, I was hoping no one would pass him. He’s that kind of guy. He’s a genuine, nice, good person. They’ll know him now, and you’ve not seen the best of him.”
I'll Have Another will now look to take the next step towards becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 when Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes within a five-week span. The Preakness takes place Saturday, May 19.