Mario Gutierrez is perfect in two Kentucky Derby rides. The time in between those races was far from it.
Four years after riding I'll Have Another to victory in the Run For The Roses, Gutierrez earned another Derby triumph by riding favorite Nyquist to a 1 1/4-length victory. Gutierrez's next step is winning a second Preakness in only his second try, two weeks from now in Baltimore. For the moment he's basking in this Derby win.
"One race at a time," said Gutierrez.
Nyquist challenged throughout the 1 1/4-mile race before Gutierrez seized his opportunity at the top of the stretch. The colt turned up the speed for a decisive win sure to spark discussion over whether Nyquist can follow American Pharoah as a Triple Crown champion.
Gutierrez, meanwhile, no longer has to question his value as a jockey.
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His career leveled off after he rode I'll Have Another to wins in the 2012 Derby and Preakness before the colt was withdrawn from the Belmont Stakes with a career-ending tendon injury the day before the race. That stunning development extended the Triple Crown drought that American Pharoah ended last spring after 37 years.
Though Gutierrez won stakes races, his most notable win was aboard Bond Holder in the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita. His slump reached the point that his wife, Rebecca, urged him to see a sports psychologist to find a solution for his struggles.
Marriage, counseling and a certain horse have clearly provided answers and happiness for Gutierrez.
"I'm doing things I wasn't doing four years ago," said Gutierrez, who's expecting a child with Rebecca. "So, that makes me have a lot of confidence. I know that my surroundings always believe in me, so you get extra confidence.
"I believe I got the right people behind me, so they always give me confidence," he added.
Gutierrez has shown it with Nyquist, who's a perfect 8-0 — all with him aboard. Their chemistry was evident in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and last month's Florida Derby that established the colt as the Derby favorite. The relationship came full circle at Churchill Downs with a run that didn't shock trainer Doug O'Neill.
"He's got ice in his veins," he said of the jockey. "He's the one you want on the free throw line at the end of the game."