LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Although Mario Gutierrez couldn’t hear the raucous cheers from the thousands of people in Vancouver who watched him cross the finish line to take his second Kentucky Derby title in as many tries, he was warmed by the positive vibes coming from 3,200 kilometres away.
“It’s very, very special to hear they’re cheering me on,” the 29-year-old jockey said of his fans who packed Hastings Race Course in Vancouver, the city he calls his second home and where he launched his racing career less than a decade ago.
“I hope people keep cheering for me.”
Spectators at the Vancouver horse-racing facility watched a telecast of the derby in Louisville, Ky. and the place exploded in excitement as Gutierrez took the lead, said racetrack spokesman Greg Douglas.
“When he won the yelling and cheering I’m sure was bouncing off the North Shore mountains. The place went crazy,” Douglas said.
“Probably one of the largest crowds in the history of Hastings Race Course was here, specifically to watch Mario,” he added.
“He’s a local superstar, he really is. When you’ve got 10,000 to 12,000 people coming out to watch the race just so they can be part of it during the live telecast, that pretty much says it all.”
Gutierrez took his first Kentucky Derby title in May 2012, flying under the radar for a first-place finish with a Canadian-owned horse named I’ll Have Another.
Four years later he did just that, achieving the rare feat of winning both Kentucky Derby races in which he’s competed.
This time he was riding Nyquist, another Canadian-owned colt who remains undefeated after eight races, all with Gutierrez as his jockey.
Nyquist is owned by J. Paul Reddam of Windsor, Ont., and trained by Doug O’Neill. Both were also I’ll Have Another’s owner and conditioner, respectively.
With the first leg of the Triple Crown under his belt, Gutierrez is focused on pulling off another repeat win later this month at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.
“We only think one race at a time,” said Gutierrez, speaking from Louisville. “Right now that’s where our focus is, that’s where all our energy is.”
Victories at both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in New York state in June would make Gutierrez the second jockey to take home the Triple Crown in 38 years.
American Pharoah earned the title last year and end the decades-long drought that followed the previous win in 1978.
“I believe whenever as a jockey you go to the track you go there with the hopes and dreams that you found a Kentucky Derby contender,” Gutierrez said.
“Those were my hopes a year ago (and) to be able to have all of that translate into reality is just unbelievable. I don’t believe I have the right words to describe it.
“I’m in a very, very special happy place right now.”
— By Geordon Omand in Vancouver
— Follow @gwomand on Twitter
By The Canadian Press