Former South Surrey jockey Mario Gutierrez aims for third Kentucky Derby crown

30-year-old will ride Irap at Kentucky Derby Sunday at Churchill Downs

Former South Surrey jockey Mario Gutierrez has a perfect record at the Kentucky Derby, having won the prestigious horse race twice in two attempts.

This weekend, he’ll make a run at a three-peat.

On Sunday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., the 30-year-old, Mexican-born Gutierrez – who got his start at Vancouver’s Hastings Park Racecourse, racing for South Surrey horse-owner Glen Todd – will climb aboard horse, Irap, and run the 10-furlong race (one-and-a-quarter miles) in a field that is, if the pundits are to be believed, is without an odds-on favourite for the first time in years.

“It’s probably the most wide-open derby in the last two centuries,” said Todd. “Every horse has a chance, I think. That’s just the kind of how this year is – anybody can win.”

Such a wide-open field could prove to benefit someone as talented as Gutierrez, whom Todd calls “one of the top riders in the U.S., no doubt about it.”

Back in 2012, Gutierrez won two legs of the Triple Crown – first the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness Stakes – aboard I’ll Have Another, before the horse was scratched from what would have been the third Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes.

After a four-year absence from the derby field, Gutierrez returned to the Kentucky Derby – frequently dubbed “The Run for The Roses” – with horse Nyquist and topped the field again.

Like his first two horses, Gutierrez’s new horse, Irap, is owned by J. Paul Reddam and trained by Doug O’Neill. Earlier this spring, Irap won the Bluegrass Stakes – “One of the final, major prep races (before the derby),” Todd said, – though Gutierrez was not in the saddle for the win. At the time, he was home in California, riding at Santa Anita Park.

“It worked out pretty well for Mario, getting his mount back. But it’s pretty hard to keep a guy out (of the Derby) who has won a million-dollar race before,” said Todd.

As he did for Gutierrez’s first two Kentucky victories, Todd told Peace Arch News, he’ll watch the race live from Hastings Park.

“I’ve got horse to run here so I’ll watch it (on TV),” he said, adding that his daughter Shelley plans to travel to Louisville to support Gutierrez.

Though Gutierrez’s career has had plenty of highlights thus far, he added another milestone to his resumé back in February at Santa Anita when he earned his 1,000th-career win.

After the win, Gutierrez told horse-racing website that the milestone “means a lot to me.”

“It’s been a hell of a run. Two Kentucky Derby wins, two Breeders’ Cups, the Preakness… It’s been amazing. I never thought I’d be at this level, so I’m very happy,” he continued.

Todd, too, was impressed that Gutierrez was able to win so many races so early in his career.

“It’s a big number, and he won 400 of those races for me right here in Vancouver… There are guys who’ve been riding a lot longer than him who’ve never reached that number,” Todd said.

“Mario gets better and better and better every year. Now, he’s 30 years old, so he’s a journeyman – a veteran.”

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