Jockey Gutierrez hopes Derby win will lead to more racing mounts
Mario Gutierrez has been on the phone constantly since winning the Kentucky Derby aboard I'll Have Another.
Most of the messages are from friends and family, offering congratulations following the victory that lifted the jockey from Mexico out of obscurity.
Gutierrez is still waiting for the calls offering him more mounts.
That could change after Saturday, if I'll Have Another wins the Preakness and moves into position for a run at the Triple Crown.
So far, the Derby victory hasn't raised the soft-spoken rider's profile. Gutierrez is still trying to crack the deep jockey colony in Southern California.
He got the Derby mount on a whim after making a favorable impression on owner Paul Reddam. Impressed by how Gutierrez rode a race at Santa Anita, Reddam decided to give the newcomer a chance.
"This is kind of a step out of the box," Reddam said. "It's one of those weird intuitions that you get. It's amazing when it works out, which isn't too often I suppose."
The horse and rider tandem clicked immediately. They are unbeaten in the three races since teaming up, a string that includes the Santa Anita Derby.
That success hasn't opened many doors for Gutierrez.
"I'm still not riding that many horses," Gutierrez said. "Everybody knows that California racing has top trainers and top jockeys. I'm just glad to be riding with them. I am getting a lot of calls, but not to ride."
Last weekend he had only four mounts at Hollywood Park.
A breakout is only a matter of time, said Doug O'Neill, I'll Have Another's trainer.
"Mario is the closest thing to Rafael Bejarano who many of you are familiar with," O'Neill said. "He's a finesse rider who is able to get the horse to drop the bit and relax. When he calls on them, they want to grab the bit and take off. Some guys have it and some don't and Mario has it. And he's such a confident, calm jockey. It won't be long before his business picks up."
Till then, Gutierrez is focusing on the Preakness.
"The horse is going to take me there," he said. "I believe in the horse. He did it for me in Kentucky. He's looking great. I'm not doing anything. The horse is proving a lot of people wrong."
I'll Have Another is the 5-2 second choice from post No. 9.
His greatest fame has come lately as the head of Team Valor International. The partnership that sells fractional shares in racehorses has been on a roll, winning last year's Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. They try for another victory in a 3-year-old classic with Went the Day Well, who is 6-1 for the Preakness.
Went the Day Well had a rough trip in the Derby, rallying from 17th to get fourth, only 2 1/2 lengths behind I'll Have Another.
The Derby winner and Bodemeister, the 8-5 favorite, are the consensus picks to win the Preakness. On Thursday morning, Irwin sharpened his handicapping pencil to sketch a scenario in which his horse pulls off a mild upset.
"I think what's going to happen here, based on what I saw in the Derby, is that Bob Baffert is going to try and get his jock on Bodemeister to run slower early," Irwin said.
In the Derby, Bodemeister set an impossibly fast pace on a hot afternoon and held on gamely for second.
Irwin doesn't think the strategy will work. He believes Gutierrez will send I" Have Another right after Bodemeister.
"That guy will make sure Bodemeister goes fast," Irwin said. "He's going to press him. It's going to be two good horses hooking up. It'll be fast, not as fast as the Derby, but fast enough. If there is enough pressure on Bodemeister from I'll Have Another, both those horses could be vulnerable."
Setting the stage for a closer, like Went the Day Well.
"I can see a scenario where it can happen," Irwin said.
The pace was so fast Baffert knew his horse couldn't last.
"When I saw the fractions I thought it was ridiculous, it's not going to happen," said Baffert, a five-time Preakness winner. "When he cut the corner (at the top of the stretch) and was five in front, I thought 'Maybe.' "
Baffert agrees with Irwin that slowing down Bodemeister will be key. That job falls to jockey Mike Smith.
"He can't keep going too fast," Baffert said. "Eventually it will take a toll on a horse. I hope Mike can slow it down. If he eats his Wheaties that day, we might have a shot."