05/31/2007 11:00PM

Live mounts, quick adjustment put Gutierrez on top


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Jockey Mario Gutierrez made an immediate impact when he arrived here from his native Mexico last June.

At the time, Gutierrez was an apprentice, and despite having the bug for less than two months, he was easily the leading apprentice at the meet. He closed out 2006 in strong fashion as a journeyman, finishing second in the standings, and he has continued his good riding this year.

After a little more than a month of racing, Gutierrez is leading the Hastings jockey standings with 24 wins, 5 more than David Wilson. There's a big drop off to third, where the leading rider for four of the past five years, Pedro Alvarado, sits with 10 wins, tied with Felipe Valdez and Frank Fuentes.

Obviously it's too early in the meet to hand the riding title to Gutierrez, but if he keeps winning at a 29 percent clip, he's going to be tough to catch.

It also doesn't hurt that one of Gutierrez's main supporters, trainer Troy Taylor, is winning races at a high rate of 33 percent.

Gutierrez's riding skills are improving with experience, but he still hasn't made a lot of headway with his ability to learn English as a second language.

"I need to work a little more on learning the language," Gutierrez said in Spanish. Milton Palma, a groom for trainer Terry Jordan, was kind enough to act as an interpreter.

"I was getting on pretty live horses when I first got up here," said Gutierrez, who was the leading apprentice rider in Mexico City in 2005. "So it wasn't hard to make the adjustment to the smaller track. But I still feel like I'm learning and improving every day."

Although Gutierrez is very happy with the start he's had, he is still looking for his first stakes win at the meet.

"I've had a few seconds in stakes and hopefully I'll get a win soon," he said. "Thesaratogaexpress is a pretty nice 3-year-old, and Starlite Strike ran a very good race against Monashee last weekend."

If Gutierrez continues to ride as well as he has, it won't be long before he'll be among the top stakes riders at Hastings.

Bowen tops apprentice list

With five wins, Rocco Bowen is the leading apprentice rider at the meet. Bowen, who turned 18 on May 23, is from Barbados, where he won 18 races in his short career. Bowen heard about Hastings from Anderson Ward, who also started riding in Barbados and has been based at Hastings since fall 2005.

Bowen was introduced to horse racing by his father, who is a horse owner in Barbados.

"I loved going to the track with my dad and just being around the horses," he said. "I ended up learning how to ride and I'm enjoying being a jockey."

Bowen has done most of his riding at Garrison Savannah Racetrack, which is located a couple of miles outside of Bridgetown, Barbados.

"They have pretty tight turns there, so it hasn't been that hard making the adjustment to riding here," he said.

Trainer Jim Brown has been impressed with Bowen's riding skills. "I really like the way he sits on a horse, and he can switch sticks as well as anyone here," Brown said. "I think he's going to start getting a lot more live mounts and he should do real well here."

Cloutier heads trainer standings

Last year, trainers Terry Clyde and Barb Heads, with 48 wins each, set a milestone by being the first women trainers to win the training title at Hastings.

Another woman, Toni Cloutier, is leading the trainer's race this year with 9 wins from 30 starts. Her husband, Mark Cloutier, is her assistant trainer, and they work together as a very good team.

"We're off to an excellent start," Toni Cloutier said. "We've had the right kind of horses for the races that have been filling, so we've been lucky enough to win our share."

Cloutier also said having Drew Levere, who is in charge of maintaining the Hastings racing surface, as an exercise rider has had a lot to do with the barn's early success.

"He galloped a few of our horses last year, but we have him almost full time now and it really helps make things run smoothly," she said. "He really takes a lot of pride in galloping the horses."

Mark Cloutier, who is the other main exercise rider in the barn, also gave a lot of credit to the grooms and hotwalkers in the barn.

"They just love their horses," he said. "It really shows with the care and attention they give to them. They really get upset if a horse gets claimed. We try and explain that it's part of the business, but it's still pretty hard on them."

The Cloutiers are hoping for a big effort from Badgetts Star on Sunday. She figures to be either the first or second choice in the seventh race, a $20,000 claiming sprint for fillies and mares. Badgett Star is owned by Pink Ribbon Stable, Tracy Bell, and Lindsay MacLeod.

"Part of the money Badgett Star earns goes to the Crystal Gala Foundation," Toni Cloutier said. "The foundation has raised over $600,000 over the past eight years and that money goes towards breast cancer research. They're hoping to raise another $400,000."

The Crystal Gala Foundation is the charity of the day at Hastings on Sunday. It will have a table set up in front of the winner's enclosure where people can purchase various products or make a donation.