Kentucky Derby winner has Merritt connection
When youthful-looking jockey Mario Guttierez rode the Canadian-owned, three-year-old colt I’ll Have Another One to a surprising 11/2-length victory in last Saturday’s 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, there were more than a few smiling faces on this side of the 49th parallel - in not only British Columbia but right here in the Nicola Valley.
The 25-year-old Guttierez, who hails from Veracruz, Mexico, cut his teeth in the thoroughbred racing industry at Hastings Park in Vancouver. Not knowing a word of English, he came to B.C. in 2006 and promptly became the leading apprentice jockey that year with 91 wins.
Guttierez’s statistics have climbed steadily in the interim leading up to Saturday’s win at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. In five short seasons, he has won over 670 races, mainly at Hastings Park, worth in excess of $10.7 million in earnings.
Three of those victories were on board another promising three-year-old, Taylors Deal, who was born and raised at Can-A-Mex Farms right here in the Nicola Valley. Can-A-Mex owner-operators Joel and Karen Menna were understandably thrilled to see ‘Super Mario’ claim the Kentucky Derby crown on the weekend.
“It’s the one that every jockey wants to win,” said Karen on Sunday. “Everyone is so happy for Mario.”
Close to 8,000 fans jammed Hastings Park on Saturday to watch the Kentucky Derby race on a giant 40-foot jumbo screen.
“Everyone was cheering for Mario because he is from here,” veteran jockey Frank Fuentes told Tom Wolski of The Province newspaper. “All of us, from valets to the guys who work on the starting gate, were touched by his victory.”
Guttierez, for his part, knew he had something special under him going into the Derby.
“He is an amazing horse,” he told reporters after the race. “I told everybody after the first time I rode him, I knew he was the one.”
Guttierez and I’ll Have Another earned a place in the starting gate in Louisville by winning the Santa Anita Derby back on April 7.
I’ll Have Another, who is owned by Paul Reddam of Windsor, Ont., now has a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. He will race in the Preakness Stakes on May 19, followed by the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
For his part, Taylors Deal has continued his steady progress on the track. He won an allowance race at Hastings Park on April 14, opening day at the Vancouver race track. The win was Taylors Deal’s fourth victory in six career starts.