EDITORIAL: A ride worth celebrating

South Surrey jockey Mario Gutierrez has proven himself to be more than just a guy sitting atop a really fast horse.

That sound heard Friday morning was that of a balloon deflating, with word that sensational racehorse I’ll Have Another would not run the Belmont Stakes due to injury.

The late scratch meant that the thoroughbred’s improbable run for the prestigious Triple Crown was over, as its handlers rightfully, and commendably, put the horse’s health ahead of a potential historic victory, not to mention the profit that would surely follow.

And with the horse’s absence, a great deal of momentum was also lost for a sport struggling to stay top-of-mind amongst North American sports fans. I’ll Have Another’s victories at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes – and the chance that maybe, just maybe, a landmark moment was in the offing – gave thoroughbred racing a higher profile than it had enjoyed in years, likely decades. Not since 1978, when jockey Steve Cauthen rode Affirmed to victory had a horse captured the rare triple.

But it spurred, too, the cynics – those who pooh-pooh horse-racing as not a sport so much as a gambler’s paradise, because, they insist, a horse cannot be considered a real athlete.

But what of the jockey, one Mario Gutierrez? Lost amidst the hue and cry that the Triple Crown would go unclaimed for yet another year, was the 25-year-old former South Surrey resident, whose shot at glory was dashed by something he could not control – the health of a horse.

And though it has been I’ll Have Another in the headlines since the Derby win in early May, Gutierrez should get plenty of credit, too.

He’s more, after all, than just a guy sitting atop a really fast horse.

South Surrey horse owner Glen Todd, whose horses Gutierrez rode during a six-year run at Hastings Park, refers to the jockey as “gifted.”

After his win in Kentucky, Todd even went so far as to call Gutierrez the Bobby Orr of jockeys. Add in the backstory – Gutierrez grew up racing the dirt tracks of Mexico before being discovered and brought to Vancouver – and it’s no wonder he’s garnered so much attention.

And while there has been since Friday an obvious sense of sadness that the Triple Crown has gone unclaimed, and that I’ll Have Another will not race again, there too, should be a moment to honour the steady hand of Gutierrez, the relatively unknown jockey who somehow managed to take thoroughbred racing from the dirt tracks of the sports world into the mainstream, if even for a moment.