VANCOUVER - Mario Gutierrez's unexpected victory at the Kentucky Derby sparked celebrations at the Vancouver racetrack he trained at.
Just six years after he came to compete at Hastings Racecourse, Mexico's Gutierrez rode his chestnut colt, I'll Have Another, to victory Saturday by 1 1-2 lengths.
His odds were 15-1, and local horse-racing enthusiasts were immediately heralding the win.
"He's done Vancouver racing the biggest thing that could ever happen to it," said Glen Todd, a thoroughbred owner who calls himself Gutierrez's Canadian father.
Todd said Gutierrez had ridden his horses for the past six years, winning hundreds of races. When the derby began Saturday, Todd said he was in a private party at Hastings.
"I had 50 people here with me and they were all screaming and hollering, you couldn't hear anything," he said. "The emotions, everybody was crying and screaming and yelling. Everybody was in disbelief."
Raj Mutti, regional general manager of BC Racing, said an almost complete silence enveloped the crowd of nearly 8,000 at Hastings Racecourse before Gutierrez's ride.
But in the last 15 seconds of the race, the crowd "completely erupted," Mutti said.
"Lots of high fives, lots of cheering, lots of screaming, just pure excitement in the air once he crossed the finish line," said Mutti. "When they made it official, he got another huge rousing ovation from our crowd."
During his eight years at the course, Mutti said he's never seen anything quite like it.
"It's probably the most excited the crowd's ever been and probably the most excited, loudest I've ever witnessed at Hastings Racecourse."
He said Gutierrez came to Vancouver when he was just 19 but quickly became a leading jockey and has been at the top of his game ever since.
Howard Blank, vice-president of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which owns Hastings, said the victory is just another amazing accomplishment for Vancouver.
"A young jockey, going from Vancouver, which is really, you know, a lower circuit than what you have in America, to winning the greatest race in the history of the world. It's just a phenomenal day for everyone associated with horse racing in British Columbia," said Blank.
Blank, who watched the race from Florida, said Hastings Racecourse hopes to bring back Gutierrez by the beginning of summer for a special celebration.
It will be called Mario Gutierrez Day.
"Just couldn't ask for a better storybook ending today, and we can't wait to be able to honour him and have him come back as one of our own," said Blank.
"He may have been born in Mexico and grown up there but we know his heart's in Vancouver."