By DAVID GINSBURG, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Mario Gutierrez thought he was on his way back to California after being told I'll Have Another was headed into retirement with a swollen tendon.
"I think he was sort of stunned," the colt's owner, Paul Reddam, said Friday. "His immediate reaction was, 'Well, should I just go home today?'"
Reddam responded: "No, you've got to ride."
The suddenly illustrious jockey rode in five races, most notably the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap aboard Boxeur des Rues, owned by Reddam and trained by Doug O'Neill.
The same trio — Reddam, O'Neill and Gutierrez — carried I'll Have Another to the brink of the Triple Crown. The Brooklyn was to be Gutierrez's first test at 1 1/2 miles, the same distance as the Belmont Stakes.
It didn't matter that his horse finished seventh, because it wasn't a tuneup for the Belmont after all.
On Saturday, instead of trying to make horse racing history aboard I'll Have Another, Gutierrez will climb aboard the chestnut colt for one final time to lead the post parade before the Belmont Stakes.
Gutierrez will then watch the race instead of competing in it.
I'll Have Another will never race again. Gutierrez will ride many more horses in his lifetime, not one like the one he grew to love.
"Those kind of horses are once in a lifetime," Gutierrez said, his last parting shot at a gaggle of reporters who crowded around him as soon as he dismounted from Boxeur des Rues.
Gutierrez, a 25-year-old veteran of Mexican and Canadian racing, never could have anticipated this incredible rise to fame in such a short a period of time.
Because of their incredible come-from-behind wins in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, I'll Have Another and Gutierrez will forever be linked, teaming as relative unknowns to get within a tender tendon of mounting a charge at becoming the 12th horse in horse racing history to win the Triple Crown.
Gutierrez could have cursed his luck. Instead, he expressed genuine gratification for being given the opportunity to be a part of something so grand.
"I'll Have Another, for me, is amazing," he said. "He just brought happiness to my life and the opportunity to share this unbelievable adventure with family and friends. He'll be my hero forever. I'm just glad that I was his jockey."
Gutierrez was more concerned about I'll Have Another than himself.
"He was sad for the horse. Really," Reddam said. "He has just had a tremendous bonding with I'll Have Another, and his concern was 100 percent for the welfare of the horse. He expressed no disappointment for not getting the chance to run in the Belmont."
"He hasn't done anything but give me all this happiness and all this success," Gutierrez said. "This just comes once in a lifetime. I feel the luckiest guy in the world to be a part of I'll Have Another."
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