Six years ago, a teenage Mario Gutierrez was in the Great White North, trying to eke out a living and keep warm in frigid outposts like Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, quite an adjustment for a native of sunny Mexico.

Fast forward to Feb. 4, 2012. Gutierrez rides I’ll Have Another to a smashing 2 ¾-length victory at 43-1 in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at historic Santa Anita Park and thrusts himself firmly into the Triple Crown picture.

Next up: Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, the West’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 5. Gutierrez has to pinch himself to believe this fairytale ride.

“This is a great opportunity,” said the 25-year-old Gutierrez, whose agent is 85-year-old ex-Marine Ivan Puhich. “I’m very excited. I came here not expecting this kind of thing to happen to me. I was hoping it would eventually, but coming this soon makes me very happy.

“It’s every rider’s dream to run in the Kentucky Derby and I’m no different. I think I would have a good chance with my horse, if he does well in the Santa Anita Derby.

“I’ve worked him a few times and he’s training good. I worked him before I won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, I worked him at Santa Anita after that between races and I worked him at Hollywood. I just hope everything goes well on Saturday.

“I started riding in Mexico City and rode there for eight months. Then I moved to Canada in 2006 and that’s where I rode most of the time for trainer Troy Taylor before coming to California to ride for him when he brought horses to Santa Anita.

“It was bitter cold in Canada, so it’s a huge difference riding in Southern California. The tracks in Canada are small. Santa Anita is the real deal.”

Early on at Santa Anita, Gutierrez caught the educated eye of prominent horseman J. Paul Reddam, who owns I’ll Have Another, and suggested that trainer Doug O’Neill give him a chance on the chestnut son of Flower Alley.

Understandably, Gutierrez, who had 10 wins from 99 rides at Santa Anita through Saturday, has benefited from the wealth of knowledge and experience Puhich brings to the game.

“I just met Ivan a couple months ago,” Gutierrez said. “I’m very happy. He’s good people. Everybody knows him. He’s a little bit old but that doesn’t bother him at all.”

Hardly. “I started as an agent when I was 15 years old in Seattle, where I also was galloping horses,” Puhich said. “I joined the Marine Corps in 1945.”

That was good news for Uncle Sam. Nearly seven decades later, Puhich is good news for Mario Gutierrez.

In other Santa Anita Derby news:

Impressive maiden winner Paynter worked “super good” Sunday at Hollywood Park, according to Bob Baffert assistant Jim Barnes. The son of Awesome Again worked seven furlongs in 1:25.20, handily from the gate. Barnes said that Baffert’s other two Derby candidates, Liaison and Blueskiesnrainbows, are scheduled to work five furlongs tomorrow at Santa Anita.

With his recent workouts “over the top,” trainer Jim Cassidy said promising maiden Brother Francis likely would gallop into the Santa Anita Derby.

Probable for the Santa Anita Derby: Brother Francis, Garrett Gomez; Blueskiesnrainbows; Baby Blake; Creative Cause, Joel Rosario; Liaison, Rafael Bejarano; Midnight Transfer, Mike Smith; I’ll Have Another, Mario Gutierrez; Longview Drive; Paynter; and Senor Rain.

Also on Santa Anita Derby Day, there will be a $750,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4.


Top-rated Los Angeles talk show host Tim Conway Jr. will emcee this year’s Santa Anita Derby Draw Breakfast at the track’s FrontRunner Restaurant on Wednesday, April 4. The draw will determine the field for the Grade I, $750,000 Derby to be run next Saturday.

“Tim is a great personal friend and a great friend of Santa Anita,” said Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge. “I guarantee everyone this: we are going to have some fun with the draw on Wednesday.

“Tim’s got a great sense of humor and knows the game inside and out. We’ve got some outstanding horses lined up and we want everyone to know they can come out to Santa Anita and have a great time and be a part of what we hope is going to be an unforgettable Derby Day.”

Conway, son of legendary actor/comedian Tim Conway and host of the “Tim Conway Jr. Show,” on KFI, AM 640, weeknights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., is a regular attendee at The Great Race Place.

This year marks the 75th running of the Santa Anita Derby, the West Coast’s premier Kentucky Derby prep, a race that has produced 15 Kentucky Derby winners over the years, most recently Giacomo in 2005.


Santa Anita offers the third of its popular “Free Fridays” on April 6. General Admission will be free to all Santa Anita attendees, with hot dogs, sodas and beers on sale at $2 each.

“With the Santa Anita Derby coming up next Saturday, we think this is a great way for us to reach out to a large number of new and casual fans and get the Derby on their radar,” said Thoroughbred owner Mark Verge on behalf of the Stronach Group.

“There’s no question ‘Free Fridays’ drives on-track attendance and helps set the table each weekend. We want people to know we’re going to be more competitive than ever and that we’re going to do everything we can to make their trip to Santa Anita an unforgettable experience—every time they come.”


Registration for Santa Anita’s annual Santa Anita Derby Day 5K Walk and Run on Santa Anita Derby Day, April 7, is open to the public. The Derby Day 5K benefits several charities, including Pasadena-based AbilityFirst, the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), the Arcadia High School Athletic Boosters Club, the Arcadia Historical Museum and Arcadia Explorer Scouts.

Adults and children are welcome, as there will be divisions for kids up to 12 years of age, an Open Division and a Masters Division for adults 40 and over.

The 5K run begins at 8 a.m. and the 5K walk starts at 8:15 a.m. It is suggested that all participants arrive no later than 7:15 a.m.

“We’re very proud of the way this event has grown over the years,” said Santa Anita’s Director of Community Services and Special Projects Pete Siberell. “We’ll have over 1,000 participants from AbilityFirst and we expect to have more than 6,000 people overall either walking or running.

“This has become synonymous with the Santa Anita Derby and it generates a tremendous amount of goodwill. We’re looking forward to having a great morning and to seeing a lot of new faces.”

Top jockeys Chantal Sutherland and David Flores, avid year-round runners, will again participate in the Derby Day 5K.

“As jockeys, we need to maintain a high level of fitness and we also need to stay light,” said Flores. “I look forward to this event every year. It’s a lot of fun and we raise money for some very good causes. I feel like I’m in great shape and I’m looking forward to competing and doing well.”

The Derby Day 5K provides a varied route for runners and walkers that includes the world-renowned Los Angeles County Arboretum and a glimpse of the Santa Anita stable area. Participants will finish up their final quarter mile on Santa Anita’s training track and depending upon their age and taste, will have access to an expo with booths, a live band, food and a beer garden.

Prospects can enter On line at and via walk-up now through April 5 at Walk With Us, 235 S. Lake Ave. in Pasadena.

Pre-registration and Derby Day T-shirts will be available for pick-up April 6, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Westfield Santa Anita Mall.

Race day registration will take place at 6:30 a.m. in Santa Anita’s Southwest Parking Lot, which is accessible by taking Huntington Drive to Holly Ave. and entering at Gate 3, or by taking Baldwin Ave. and entering at Gate 8.

First race post time on Santa Anita Derby Day is 12 noon. For additional racing and event information, visit or call (626) 574-RACE.


Spots for foursomes are still available for the Garret Gomez/Winners Foundation Golf Tournament on April 9 at Angeles National Golf Club. Various prizes will be awarded to the top three foursomes, for Hole-in-One opportunities, in addition to golfer goodie bags, lunch, dinner, silent auction and live auction hosted by former Angel and Dodger Jay Johnstone.

There will also be playing appearances by former Dodgers Rudy Law and Bobby Castillo and former Oakland A’s two-time World Series winner John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom.

Jockey participants include Raphael Bejarano, Joe Talamo, David Flores, Joel Rosario and Alonso Quinonez. Long drive Champion Frank Miller will be in attendance to hit a drive at hole 13. Each participant will also receive an autographed copy of the upcoming Garrett Gomez autobiography.

FINISH LINES: Camp Victory, nominated to next Saturday’s Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes, worked six furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Sunday in a bullet 1:11.80 for Mike Mitchell. Rafael Bejarano retains the mount on San Carlos runner-up Sway Away for trainer Jeff Bonde in the Potrero Grande . . . Garrett Gomez rides Byrama for trainer Simon Callaghan in next Saturday’s Grade III Providencia Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Santa Anita’s turf course. Gomez worked the 3-year-old English-bred filly five furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Sunday in 1:00.60. . . Agent Tony Matos said Gomez will begin riding at Keeneland on April 11 . . . Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally has named Joel Rosario on Sharp Cat winner Charm the Maker for the Providencia . . . Multiple Grade I winner Switch worked four furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Sunday in a bullet 46.20 for John Sadler . . . At Hollywood Park, San Luis Rey winner Bourbon Bay, prepping for the Grade II San Juan Capistrano Handicap on closing day, April 22, worked four furlongs on Cushion Track in 50.80 for Neil Drysdale, while Kilroe Mile runner-up Mr. Commons went the same distance in 49.20 for John Shirreffs . . . Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and 22-year-old Joe Talamo were within striking distance of career milestones entering Sunday’s races, Smith at 4,997 victories and Talamo at 996 . . .Wagering will be offered Saturday on Gulfstream’s popular Rainbow 6 wager, which carries a mandatory payout provision on Saturday… With 13 racing days remaining, 35 players remained alive in ShowVivor2.