Mario Gutierrez after winning the 2012 Kentucky Derby aboard I'll Have Another.

Mario Gutierrez after winning the 2012 Kentucky Derby aboard I'll Have Another.

Crawford Ifland

Gutierrez Keeping Things in Perspective

Mexican rider amazed at reaction after his Kentucky Derby win on I'll Have Another.

Thrust into the national spotlight with a victory aboard I'll Have Another  in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Mario Gutierrez has kept his ego in check while thoroughly enjoying the whirlwind ride.

The little-known 25-year-old learned to ride from his father, Mario Gutierrez Sr., a Quarter Horse trainer, in Veracruz, Mexico. On a visiting Canadian trainer’s advice, the younger Gutierrez made his way to Hastings Racecourse, where he started his career as an apprentice in 2006.

He soon hooked up with one of Hastings’ premier trainers, Troy Taylor, and the pair enjoyed great success. When Taylor was ready to try Southern California, he invited Gutierrez along. Taylor has returned to Canada but he persuaded the rider to remain.

Through a series of “right place, right time” events, Gutierrez got to ride I’ll Have Another to victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Despite pressure to get a more experienced pilot, owner J. Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill stuck with Gutierrez and was rewarded with a victory in the world’s most famous race.

Since his Derby win, Gutierrez has been on the ride of a lifetime. He’s been interviewed by ESPN and various other media outlets, attended his first NBA game between the Lakers-Nuggets at Staples Center May 8, and threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium the following night.

 “That was a lot of fun,” smiled the jockey. “I got the ball across the plate and everyone was cheering. I went up to the Spanish broadcast booth later and met Fernando Valenzuela,” referring to the former star pitcher for the Dodgers.

By May 10, it was evident Gutierrez was starting to show effects from the long week. 

“I didn’t get home until 11 p.m. last night," he said. "It’s hard to say no to anyone and I’m doing my best to make everyone happy. But I don’t want my life to change. I just want to get back to riding.” 

He finally got some help when Gary Stevens’ wife, Angie, offered to answer his phone and take over his scheduling.

Gutierrez has kept what amounts to a journal on his twitter page (@Mario_Hastings), making it easy to understand why everyone’s rooting for him.

After he won the Derby, he still seemed amazed people were paying attention to him. He wrote, “OMG, almost 1000 followers J” ; he spent much of the next week trying to thank as many fans, friends, and trainers via Twitter that he could fit into the day.

But as he soon found out, it’s hard to keep a low profile when you’re that much in demand.