05/19/2012 8:26PM

Preakness 2012: Gutierrez keeps his cool

Barbara D. Livingston
Mario Gutierrez holds aloft the Woodlawn Vase in the center of the Preakness winner’s circle celebration.

BALTIMORE - Paul Reddam, the owner of Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another, admitted to thinking if ever there was a time his 25-year-old jockey Mario Gutierrez may get a little nervous it would be just before Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

"I would think if you win the first Grade 1 of your lifetime in April and you win the Derby in May if there's any time you would have been flappable it would have been going into today's race," Reddam said.

But when he saw Gutierrez joking around with Doug O'Neill, the trainer of I'll Have Another, just before getting legged up for Saturdays 137th Preakness, he knew his fears were unfounded.

And the unflappable Gutierrez gave I'll Have Another a second straight terrific ride, guiding him past Bodemeister in the shadow of the wire to win the Preakness by a neck and set up the opportunity for racing's first Triple Crown in 34 years in the June 9 Belmont Stakes.

"I have to tell you he was very loose before being legged up by Doug, and I think Doug helped out by joking around," Reddam said. "Now the pressure is going to intensify. . . . Look, there are a lot of horses that have been in this position the last 15 years, and it didn't happen for them. We're only two-thirds there. We got to be cool, including the jock. We're going to tell him to block everything out and when we get to the Belmont, just ride his race. And if it happens, it happens."

[PREAKNESS STAKES: Replay, chart, complete postrace coverage]

Everything has happened so fast for Gutierrez, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, who first came to the United States in 2005 and who had been riding in relative obscurity at Hastings in British Columbia before coming to Santa Anita in for 2011-12 winter-spring meeting. He was given the mount by Reddam and O'Neill aboard I'll Have Another and he has ridden him to four consecutive stakes victories and to the precipice of a Triple Crown.

For his part, Gutierrez said he's going to put the pressure to the side and just keep believing in the horse.

"I want to put the pressure a little bit on the side because the horse has earned all this," Gutierrez said.

"He never got a lucky trip. He's an amazing horse and I'm just happy to be riding him."

Gutierrez said his confidence in I'll Have Another - and the confidence Reddam and O'Neill have shown in him - have made it easy to stay cool, calm and collected under the glaring spotlight. Also, Saturday, he had several members of his family from Mexico at Pimlico.

"I know the horse is a great horse, he makes me [very] confident," Gutierrez said. "I got family coming from Veracruz where I grew up. They saw me when I didn't have anything. Those kinds of people, they keep believing in me, they put so much confidence in me. It's just great to have those kinds of people. I think I've been really lucky."

Lucky perhaps, but Bob Baffert and Mike Smith - the Hall of Fame connections of Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister - think Gutierrez is quite good as well.

"Mario Gutierrez, he had him in a really good spot. I was watching him the whole race," said Baffert, who watched the Preakness on a television in Pimlico's saddling paddock. "The kid was just sitting chilly on him. I was hoping he would chase us a little bit, but he refuses to chase Bodemeister. He's a good horse and that kid really rides him with a lot of confidence."

Said Smith:  "He's a brilliant young rider; he fits this horse to a T. He's very, very patient and he rides a good race, and there's room to improve. Scary isn't it?"