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Jockey's Derby victory no surprise around Vancouver

Jockey Mario Gutierrez reacts after riding I'll Have Another to victory in the 138th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 5, 2012, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Darron Cummings/AP

His name captures the tipsy essence of the Kentucky Derby, but his surprise victory at North America's premier horse race owes more to Canada than Louisville.

I'll Have Another, a 15-1 long shot going into the Derby, made it to Churchill Downs thanks to the preternatural instincts of a jockey who cut his teeth in Vancouver and the largesse of an owner who fell in love with the track as a boy in Windsor, Ont.

For American audiences, jockey Mario Gutierrez was virtually unknown before his Derby victory, but for the small racing community centred around Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, the 25-year-old Mexican has long held a reputation for winning races aboard dark-horse entries.

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Mr. Gutierrez can relax his horse with boundless patience and soft hands, say those who know him well at the Vancouver stables.

"They just run for him because he sits still, not moving, and the horses can feel his hands. They relax for him," said Glen Todd, of Todd and Kinsella Racing Stable at Hastings Racetrack.

But Mr. Gutierrez modestly shakes off the remark in an interview from California, where he now lives. "It's the horse," Mr. Gutierrez said Sunday.

"[I'll Have Another]is different than any other horse. He loves racing, he gives everything in a race," he said. "He never quits. It just makes me want to be the same way."

Mr. Gutierrez won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, with the three-year-old chestnut colt overtaking favourite Bodemeister in the stretch to win by a length and a half. He now intends to turn the elusive Triple Crown – the Preakness Stakes on May 19 and the Belmont Stakes on June 9. It has been 34 years since a horse won the three races.

The race went exactly as he, trainers and owner J. Paul Reddam had pictured it, Mr. Gutierrez said.

Like his jockey, Mr. Reddam traced an unlikely path to Churchill Downs. Born in Windsor, he invested in his first horse while studying for a master's degree in philosophy at the University of Toronto. He eventually earned a doctorate in the subject at the University of Southern California before taking on a professorship at California State University in Los Angeles.

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In 1995, he founded, a mortgage loan company, which he sold to General Motors in 1999. He later founded CashCall Inc., a finance lending company in Fountain Valley, Calif. A few years ago, attorney-general Jerry Brown, now governor of the state, called on it to stop using "loan shark tactics," which included abusive calls at all hours. Los Angeles County Superior Court ordered CashCall in a 2009 judgment to pay $1-million (U.S.) in civil penalties and legal expenses and to stop misleading consumers with deceptive advertising.

Today, the website boasts a Better Business Bureau label, and the company expanded operations to include CashCall Mortgage.

Through it all, Mr. Reddam maintained an interest in dozens of horses. Today, he has more than 25 thoroughbreds in training.

Earlier this year, Mr. Reddam took a chance on an unheralded jockey and a cheap colt – I'll Have Another sold for just $11,000 as a yearling – a combination that immediately paid off, taking the Santa Anita Derby in April and the Kentucky Derby one month later.

A day after his Derby victory, Mr. Gutierrez was still pinching himself. "This is crazy. I cannot believe I did what I did … yesterday, not a lot of people knew me and now, everyone knows where I came from."

The Mexico-born jockey, who has been racing since he was 14 years old, was brought to Canada on a working visa six years ago at the age of 19.

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"The first horse I put him on, he won," Mr. Todd, who owns more than 100 horses, said in an interview. Mr. Gutierrez won around 15 races for the racing stable in his first year, 40 in his second and more than 50 races in 2007 and 2008, twice earning the top jockey title at Hastings Racecourse.

Beginning in 2007, he lived with Mr. Todd and trainer Troy Taylor in the summer, while spending winters racing in northern California.

Mr. Todd said he regarded Mr. Gutierrez as a son. He remembers using sign language when Mr. Gutierrez first arrived, as he was unable to speak any English.

Mr. Todd recounted when he first heard about the thoroughbred I'll Have Another. "[Mr. Gutierrez]called me and said, 'I just worked this incredible horse. It was so good, but I do not think they will let me ride it,' " Mr. Todd said.

Mr. Gutierrez remains devoted to his family and early supporters. He regularly sends money home, even building a house for the family in the town of el Higo in Veracruz state. Fresh off a $1.5-million victory (jockeys generally keep about 10 per cent of the winner's take), he made sure to thank his adopted Vancouver family in interviews.

He said he would continue racing with I'll Have Another to show Mr. Todd and Mr. Taylor that they did not waste their time on him. "I appreciate it a lot," he said.

With files from Lisa Priest

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National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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