Kentucky Derby-winning rider Gutierrez tries baseball
Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez proved as cool on the mound as he was atop I'll Have Another, tossing out a first pitch at the Los Angeles Dodgers' game as part of a whirlwind week since he pulled off the 15-1 upset at Churchill Downs.
The 25-year-old Gutierrez stood on the front slope of the mound Wednesday night and threw the ball over the plate to catcher Matt Treanor as organist Nancy Bea Hefley played "My Old Kentucky Home." The stretch run of the Derby was replayed on the stadium's videoboard before Gutierrez was greeted by applause.
He and I'll Have Another will try to win the second leg of racing's Triple Crown in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on May 19.
Gutierrez was mostly unknown outside of Southern California's racetracks before his big win at the Derby last weekend. All that changed after I'll Have Another overtook pacesetter Bodemeister in the final 100 yards to win.
"It's changed a lot," a smiling Gutierrez said on the field before he took the mound wearing a blue jersey with Santa Anita on the front. "It's crazy."
He spent Tuesday night at the Lakers' playoff game and did multiple interviews with Spanish-language TV outlets. After the Derby, Gutierrez's two cellphones exploded with so many messages that he lost count.
"Last night was my only night to catch my eight hours of sleep," he said. "It's a little tiring. I have to quit doing this."
Although he's enjoying the activities and attention, Gutierrez said that after the Dodgers game he plans to "put all this stuff aside and just focus on racing right now."
That includes returning to riding at Hollywood Park this week before flying to Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday to visit his buddies at Hastings Race Course, where he honed his skills before trying the ultra-competitive Southern California racing circuit.
"It's always nice to go and see my friends. They've been so supportive," he said. "They had me there for six years and I owe them a lot. Thanks to them I had the opportunity to bring a better living to my family back home. What has happened to me in L.A. is just unbelievable."
Gutierrez's family watched the Derby on the Internet from their home in Veracruz, Mexico. His mother's phone rang into the wee hours of the morning afterward.
"My mom says I've been all over the news in Mexico," he said.
From Vancouver, Gutierrez will fly to Pimlico on Tuesday to get ready for the Preakness.
"This is not the end," he said. "This is the beginning. We have this big race coming up."
Gutierrez was accompanied to the game by his girlfriend of four months, Hailey Wells. They met while out to dinner with mutual friends. Wells was with him at the Derby and visited Gutierrez in the jockeys' room early in the day.
"I knew he was going to do good because he was sticking his tongue out at me, he was playing around and just so calm and cool," she said. "I was so surprised that nothing was fazing him. That's normally how he is, but I thought the nerves would get the best of him but they didn't."
Wells was the one in shock as she saw Gutierrez and I'll Have Another gaining in the stretch and eventually passing Bodemeister.
"I just couldn't believe it was happening. I just couldn't breathe after he won. I couldn't scream," she said. "All my emotions stayed inside. I was in awe. I thought it was in a dream. I had to pinch myself to make sure that it wasn't."
As a child, Gutierrez saw his father ride match races in Veracruz, which sparked his interest in being a jockey. Having reached the pinnacle of his sport by winning the Derby, he wants to keep going.
"This was a huge opportunity in my life and it still is because it's not over yet," he said. "All the people that have helped me all along in my career, I want to make them so proud."