By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: Seven years ago – June 8, 2012 – a stunned silence overcame a larger-than-normal early morning gathering at Hastings Racecourse.
It was the day before the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes in New York when Vancouver’s adopted son, Mario Gutierrez, was on the verge of becoming the first jockey in 34 years to claim racing’s Triple Crown with I’ll Have Another, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Thoroughbred racing was at centre stage the world over. It had been an incredible rise to stardom for the young, Mexican-born rider who once slept in the barns at Hastings before being welcomed into the family of owner Glen Todd.
There was a feeling of pride and merriment as horsemen mingled with the local media at Hastings the morning before the Belmont for I’ll Have Another’s final gallop. He had drawn the 11th post position in a field of 12.
That merriment instantly turned to heartbreak when Matt Jukich of the Hastings staff surfaced on the tarmac and read aloud a text message he’d just received from New York. I’ll Have Another had been scratched from the Belmont due to tendonitis in his left front tendon. Within minutes the report had been confirmed by CNN, NBC, Fox TV and ESPN.
Todd immediately reached Mario on the phone. Mario’s initial reaction was to pick up his belongings and fly home to Vancouver. Todd, who was hurting as much as anyone, told Mario to stay put, ride the other horses he’d been assigned on Saturday’s Belmont card and they would talk Sunday.
“This game is full of disappointments,” Todd said at the time. “These things can happen to any horse on any given day.”
Gutierrez followed his mentor’s suggestion. He and I’ll Have Another led the symbolic parade to the post procession for the 2012 Belmont Stakes and while Mario’s career continued to flourish, the amazing three-year-old chestnut never raced again.