Glen Todd helped mentor Mario Gutierrez into horseracing history
In a sport measured in fractions of seconds, Glen Todd admits that waiting three weeks for the final leg of horseracing’s Triple Crown will be hard to handle. But the veteran horse owner and fixture in the Vancouver racing scene knows the excruciating delay will be worth it if his protégé, jockey Mario Gutierrez, can guide I’ll Have Another to a spot in racing immortality with a victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 9 in Elmont, New York.
Todd is the man responsible for bringing a then-19-year-old Gutierrez from Mexico to Canada and giving him a chance to learn his craft at Hastings Racecourse. Six years later, after a brief stop at Southern California’s famed Santa Anita Park racetrack, Gutierrez has taken the horseracing world by storm after engineering wild come-from-behind victories in both the May 5 Kentucky Derby and two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes.
All that stands between Gutierrez and his place in racing history is a mile-and-a-half trip around Belmont Park. If I’ll Have Another beats the field to the finish line, he’ll be the first horse to win the fabled Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Eleven other horses since then have captured the first two legs of the crown only to fall short at Belmont Stakes.
But Todd has watched Gutierrez rise above for years and is confident that the jockey in the purple silks will do it again to seize this rarest of racing opportunities.
“It’s just like with singers,” Todd tells the Georgia Straight of the jockey’s meteoric climb to the top of the racing world in a telephone interview from Hastings Racecourse two days after the Preakness. “They need to get a break, and Mario got a break and away he went. There are lots of great singers that never get a break and never get to make records. Mario got a live horse and a little opening there—and he’s proof that there are chances for anybody.”
In just a few short weeks, Gutierrez has made the most of those chances, going from a neat little story of a jockey with Vancouver connections getting a chance aboard a long shot in the Kentucky Derby to the most talked-about rider in racing. While Todd is thrilled with what Gutierrez has accomplished on the track in recent weeks, he’s even more impressed with the way he’s handled his rapid ascent to superstardom.
“Mario is still Mario,” Todd says. “His head hasn’t swollen. He’s as humble as he ever was. The stardom and fame haven’t changed him one iota, and I’m really proud of that.”
Gutierrez’s family is proud of him too. Unfortunately for the jockey, due to difficulty obtaining visitor’s visas, family members won’t be able to make the trip from Veracruz, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico on the country’s central coast, to Belmont Park to see him ride in the biggest race of his life. But, according to Todd, the jockey’s family is with him on every step of this remarkable journey.
“They talk on the phone,” Todd explains. “They cried for two days after he won the Kentucky Derby. It’s great. It’s great for his family. Mario has sort of supported them all along since he came to Canada six years ago. He can certainly help them now. I know he’s built his mother a house. I know they’re one of the few families where they live that has a satellite [TV] and a refrigerator—he came from that far in the wilderness. So they’re ecstatic for him.”
And so are the people at Hastings—from owners to trainers to fellow jockeys—and the more than 11,000 who showed up to watch the Preakness on TV and erupted when Gutierrez and I’ll Have Another pulled it out at the wire.
Glen Todd was profiled on Tommy Wolski's Sport of Kings show earlier this year.
Just as he had for the Kentucky Derby, Todd watched the second leg of the Triple Crown in a private room at the track surrounded by family and friends. And that’s likely where he’ll be on June 9 as well. Despite his father-sonlike relationship with Gutierrez and the chance to witness horseracing history, Todd just doesn’t feel right about making the cross-continent trek to see the Belmont Stakes in person.
“It’s not my place,” he says. “It’s not my horse. I’d like to go, but I don’t want to distract [Mario] and throw him off course because he might feel he’s obligated to me. That’s just not horseracing. I know the etiquette in horseracing, and it’s not my place.”
Instead, Todd will continue to stay in constant contact with Gutierrez, talking to him on a regular basis in the days and weeks ahead and offering him the same support he always has.
But Todd knows there’s a job to do, and he, more than anyone, wants to make sure the jockey gets that job done. So Todd wants to let Gutierrez get back to work and begin his run-up to the Belmont Stakes.
“He’s going right back to his regular routine,” Todd says. “He went home to California and rode four horses the day after the Preakness, and I know he’s got some more horses to ride there. He says he wants to go to Belmont Park about a week before and ride some races there and get accustomed to that big racetrack. And then he’ll sit and wait and win the Triple Crown. It’s that simple.”
Given all that he has accomplished already and considering the way he’s shown he can get the best out of his horse, for Gutierrez, winning the Triple Crown may indeed prove to be a simple task. Waiting for that race to arrive, though, will be anything but that for Todd.
Jeff Paterson is a talk show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter @patersonjeff.