On Saturday evening (May 5), Mario Gutierrez was led by a team of handlers and police officers into the paddock at Churchill Downs. As the 25-year-old jockey gazed at the crowd of more than 165,000, he realized that he was about to take part in biggest event in all of thoroughbred horse racing.
Dubbed "The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports", the Kentucky Derby has a 138-year history. Gutierrez became the 42nd jockey to win at his first run in the race, leading the smooth galloping colt past 4-1 favorite Bodemeister in the final furlong to a victory by one and a half lengths. Trained by Doug O'Neill, and originally a 15-1 choice, I'll Have Another became the first horse to win from position No. 19, and paid $32.60, $13.80, and $9. Bodemeister finished second and returned $6.20 and $5.60. Dullahan, trained by Preakness winner Dale Romans, was third and paid $7.20 to show.
"He's such a professional horse," Gutierrez said of I'll Have Another, a chestnut colt bought for $35,000 as a two-year old. "He's a really calm horse. He gives 100 percent every time, as soon as you ask him."
A year ago, Gutierrez watched the Derby from the jockey's room at the Hastings track in Vancouver, B.C. On that day he rode Caged Mistress to victory in the 5th, a claiming race for fillies and mares with a purse $26,000 (Canadian).
The Kentucky Derby has a guaranteed purse of $2 million. "Like all jockeys, we all dream that one day, fortunately, I would be in the Kentucky Derby," he said. "All that time, I was at Hastings Park and of course like a joke I had the dream, but I wasn't thinking it was going to be the next year."
Bodemeister lived up to his reputation as the fastest horse in the race. He went out front from the beginning and forced a very fast pace. I'll Have Another laid back, moving toward daylight in the final turn before breaking from a pack and closing a five-length gap to overtake Bodemeister.
Owned by California-based J. Paul Reddam, I'll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby but stayed under the radar most of the week. O'Neill blamed that on the inexperience of the jockey and the trainer, who saddled only two Derby horses before, both in 2007.
It's only fitting that he Mexican-born Gutierrez would win the Derby on Cinco de Mayo. Some reporters thought he would melt under the pressure. "This is a great opportunity in my life," he said. "I wasn't going to come here and melt down, that's for sure."
Following the race, Reddam was asked if he had additional goals for I'll Have Another. "I don't know how, at this point, anything could be bigger than the Kentucky Derby," Reddam said. "If you hear of something, let me know."