VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver racetrack where Mexican jockey Mario Gutierrez made his start will celebrate his victories Saturday instead of sulking in the disappointment of a missed opportunity for the Triple Crown.
But the horse owner who mentored the young man who arrived in Canada with virtually nothing says the star of the dashed but magical run for the last jewel in the Triple Crown is now Gutierrez, not the horse I'll Have Another.
"I'm so proud of that boy, regardless of what happened today," Glen Todd said Friday after speaking with the jockey.
"He's still got his chin up. He's sad, naturally."
I'll Have Another was unexpectedly scratched from the Belmont Stakes on Friday due to a tendon injury and has now been retired.
Todd, who describes himself as Gutierrez's Canadian father, met the 25-year-old jockey six years ago.
"He came from a little town in Mexico with a garbage bag full of clothes and that was his whole belongings and here he is a few years later in the biggest races in the world."
Gutierrez will return to Vancouver on July 2 to ride one of his horses in a big-stake race, Todd said.
He said Gutierrez rode I'll Have Another for the first time in January but thought the horse was so super he'd never get to race it.
"Sure enough, he got to ride it and that started the story."
Now, fans have dubbed Gutierrez "Super Mario."
The jockey is so grateful for his time at Hastings Park and the dreams he's fulfilled on a Canadian horse that he wants to become a Canadian citizen, Todd said.
"He loves Vancouver. He's done so much for the city in putting us on the map in the racing world. It's unbelievable."
Howard Blank, vice-president of the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which runs the Hastings Park racetrack, said I'll Have Another's premature retirement is sad, but his achievements are worth celebrating.
"Initially we were disappointed for Mario and for the I'll Have Another team but our sadness turned into joy because we took a breath and realized what a remarkable accomplishment Mario has made already," Blank.
The colt nabbed the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness two weeks later before his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Blank said the affable jockey will still be racing three different horses at Belmont on Saturday, so fans at the Vancouver track can watch the jockey in action.
"Hopefully he'll be able to watch from our live feed, all the fans here who will be cheering him on."
Blank said Gutierrez ran two great races at the Belmont on Friday, coming in second in both and that he hasn't let his disappointment stop him from doing what he loves.
The gaming corporation is working with the City of Vancouver on a special Mario Day proclamation this summer, complete with a ticker-tape parade, he said.
Ivan Puhich, Gutierrez's agent, said scratching I'll Have Another was the best thing, although he's been feeling down about the turn of events.
"Why would you be happy when the odds are favoured for a Triple Crown victory? You're 85 years old, you've been in the business for 70 years, why would you be happy?"
As for Gutierrez, "he's handling it quite well," said Puhich on the phone from a Mexican restaurant in Pomana, Calif., where Los Angeles County has a race meeting every year.
"He's a nice, beautiful young man. He knows no evil, he speaks no evil, he thinks no evil."
Dawn Moshonas, who has two show-jumping horses at the Southlands boarding stables in Vancouver, said Gutierrez's inspiring story has introduced a lot of people to the sport of horseracing.
"Every horse person I know is rooting for him," she said.
"I was just really sad that I didn't get to watch history in the making. But it just shows how much they care about the horse more than anything."
Moshanas said she met Gutierrez about two years ago in the paddock at Hastings Park when he rode her boss's horse.
"He seemed to me like such a sweet human being, and the one thing that's been so wonderful is how he's been promoting Vancouver."
Pippa Emrick, who co-ordinates an annual fair for the Southlands Riding Club, said members will still gather for a party to watch the Belmont on Saturday.
"One of our members has a horse that's running in the race before the Belmont so they were going to watch her horse and then watch Mario."