You could say that Mario Gutierrez is, in a way, a thoroughbred. The 25-year-old has spent his life working with horses. His father was a jockey.
By the age of 14, Gutierrez was racing quarter horses in his hometown of Veracruz and in Mexico City. And by 19, he left his family in Mexico to move to Vancouver, Canada to be a professional jockey.
Success came quickly to Gutierrez. During his first season at Vancouver's Hastings Park race track, he won 91 races. And he became known over the years, as a hot young talent.
"He rode several hundred winners for me," said horse owner Glen Todd, who is a friend and mentor to Gutierrez. "You know, it's like the story of the fellow that's deaf and dumb that sits down at a piano and plays Mozart. He was born to be a jockey, he really was. He sits a horse properly. He's got great hands. He has a great sense of timing. He's gifted."
Winning became the norm for Mario Gutierrez. He won consecutive jockey titles at Hastings Park in 2007 and 2008. His successes were celebrated by horse racing fans in Vancouver. And also by his family back in Mexico.
"Yeah they're very happy." Gutierrez told a Spanish language interviewer. "Very happy for everything that's happening in my life, because just eight or nine years ago, we didn't even dream of me being here, of my mom having her own house. None of that was possible. I come from a really small town."
Gutierrez was sending money home to his family in Mexico. But according to Glen Todd, his young protégé was also having more than his share of fun in Vancouver.
"He was starting to get money," said Todd. "He was starting to get friends that maybe he shouldn't and I really like the kid and I didn't want to see that kind of talent go to go the wrong direction."
It's a familiar story – a talented athlete with too much too soon. Glen Todd wanted to keep Gutierrez on the right track. Todd's solution was to have Gutierrez move in with his family.
"I took him in and I treated him like my own son and gave him what for when he needed it and praised him when he did things right and kept him on the straight and narrow," he said.
Today, Gutierrez calls Todd his second father.
The young Mexican jockey has come a long way since his early days at Hastings Park. He doesn't race there very often any more. And his recent wins may mark the end of his time at Vancouver's small, well-worn track.
As in many places, interest in horse racing in Vancouver has waned in recent years. The corporation that owns Vancouver's racecourse has said that it may soon have to shut its doors.
But there were big crowds at the Hastings racecourse to watch the live TV broadcast of the Preakness Stakes last month.
Gutierrez and I'll Have Another are now on the brink of making history.
The last jockey to win the Triple Crown was Steve Cauthen riding Affirmed in 1978. For Gutierrez, it's a lot to take in.
"That's the dream of all jockeys, said Gutierrez. "All of us want to get there one day. And me too, I thought, wow, maybe one day I can ride there. But I never dreamed it would all happen so fast."
Glenn Todd will be proud of Mario Gutierrez — win, place or show.
"It's a great story, he came from humble beginnings to Hastings Park in Vancouver and now he's going for the Triple Crown. It's an unbelievable story," said Glen Todd. "It's Hollywood."