Vancouver-trained jockey Mario Gutierrez had a triumphant return to the Hastings Racecourse this week.
On July 2, the Hastings Racecourse revealed a statue in his honour to a crowd of over 10,000 fans.
Gutierrez moved from Mexico to Vancouver to pursue horseracing in 2006 and honed his skills at the Hastings Racecourse. On Monday, Gutierrez returned to race at Hastings Park for the first time since he won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes on Canadian-owned horse I’ll Have Another.
Racing this time on Devil in Disguise, Gutierrez won and had received a standing ovation from the crowd before the race even started.
“On the post parade, when he showed up, it was the loudest the crowd’s cheered a jockey that I’ve ever heard in my eight years here,” said Hastings Race Course general manager Raj Mutti. “When he actually won the race, the crowd was even more excited.”
The statue was unveiled in the winner’s circle of the track, but its permanent home will be in the track’s paddock, the area where owners and jockeys congregate before a race. The work doesn’t exactly resemble Gutierrez. It is a prefabricated statue painted by a park employee to match Gutierrez’s signature purple and white racing silks.
Ryan Pacheco, a jockey at the Hastings Racecourse, said that Gutierrez has put horse racing on the map in Vancouver. “He’s really boosted attendance,” said Pacheco. “For me as a jockey, it’s always a great thrill when you see people out there [in the stands]…So it makes it a lot more exciting not just for us, but for the people out here.
Mutti called Gutierrez, often called SuperMario, the most popular jockey at the Hastings track.
“No one would be remotely close… He’s kind of at a superstar status in the city of Vancouver and the racing community. He won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, so no other jockey from Vancouver has ever done that before, so it’s a bit of a big deal right now in the city and within the racing community as well.”
Pacheco, who raced with Gutierrez at Hastings two years ago, said Gutierrez has always had a good reputation around the track. “He’s always a guy that’s smiling. He’s always a kind of happy-go-lucky type of guy. He was always really good to me and it seems like he does that with anybody who touches base with him.”
Mutti said this is the first time the track has dedicated a statue to a jockey.
“It’s the only one that we have. It’s the first time we’ve done that for a jockey. Hopefully it happens again, but there’s only one Kentucky Derby a year and we’ll see if any of our jockeys will compete in that ever again.”
Gutierrez was a favourite to win the Triple Crown this year, but his hopes were dashed when his horse, I’ll Have Another, was forced to retire due to a leg injury. He is training in California, but will be returning to the Hastings Racecourse on Aug. 6 to compete in the B.C. Cup.