By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: In the days leading up to the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes next Saturday and Justify’s quest to become only the 13th winner of racing’s Triple Crown, it is impossible to forget the disappointment and frustration that swept through every corner of Hastings Racecourse at Belmont time six years ago.
The written words from Postmedia columnist Pete McMartin couldn’t have been more succinct: “A group of men sat at a table in the backstretch at Hastings nursing their morning coffees, looking as if someone had shot their dogs.”
He went on to describe the emotional let down that had filtered through the Hastings grounds on the morning of Friday, June 8, 2012, when news broke that Mario Gutierrez would not be riding I’ll Have Another for the Triple Crown.
On the morning before the Belmont, trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam decided they were not going to take a chance and run their champion on a damaged leg.
On the heels of stunning Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories, Mario’s sudden celebrity was a gift from the racing heavens for Hastings and the industry in general.
“The unknown jockey with movie-star looks and his rags-to-riches story made headlines internationally,” wrote Denise Ryan in the Vancouver Sun.
Glen Todd, Mario’s mentor and father figure, was quoted in The New York Times saying: “This young man (Gutierrez) has done more for horse racing in a short period of time than the rest of us have done in 20 years.”
Daily Racing Form contributor Randy Goulding chimed in with: “For the people who grind out a living racing at Hastings, Mario’s improbable wins brought seasoned horsemen to tears.”
And, as is usually the case, HBPA secretary treasurer, local breeder and trainer Richard Yates put it all into authoritative perspective when he said: “It brightened up our corner of the world and helped make us feel better about who we are. In a lot of ways, we were riding with Mario.”