Horses aren’t alone when they cross the finish line.
Jockeys will forever play second-fiddle to the thoroughbred, but shot callers like Mario Gutierrez deserve more credit. His ability to push the right buttons at the perfect time is what led to an I’ll Have Another's victory in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Tom Pedulla of the USA Today reported that Steve Cauther—the jockey that won the last Triple Crown back in1978 with Affirmed—is a huge fan of Gutierrez. He said of Gutierrez:
"They found this new kid like me in the day. They believed in him, and he can ride. He obviously fits the horse, and the horse responds to him."
The horse definitely responds to him.
I’ll Have Another concluded back-to-back Triple Crown competitions with finishes to remember. Bodemeister built a comfortable cushion between himself and I’ll Have Another each time only to have those leads evaporate. And I’ll Have Another isn’t the one flipping the switch at just the right moment—Gutierrez is.
According to the Washington Post, Cauthern said:
He couldn’t have ridden the horse any better than in the Derby and the Preakness. He had him in a perfect spot both times, he was patient and made his move without a lot of fuss or fanfare. And he rode strong and got the job done.
Perfect is indeed the right word to describe Gutierrez’s execution in the pair of races. While I’ll Have Another managed to win convincingly at Churchill Downs, if Gutierrez would’ve waited a second longer to kick I’ll Have Another into high gear, we wouldn’t be talking Triple Crown right now.
Cauthern concluded his praise of the jockey by saying (via Washington Post): “It seems all great horses always have a great team, and they’re all working together, connecting and giving each other confidence.”
Gutierrez has a reason to be confident going into the 2012 Belmont Stakes. He hasn’t failed to play his cards right once this year.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.