The Aftershow: 1-on-1 with Mario Gutierrez

Mario Gutierrez was born to be a jockey, but his remarkable success story took much more than simple destiny.

Gutierrez, who grew up in poverty in Veracruz, Mexico, has only been racing in North America since 2006, when he moved from Mexico City to Vancouver.

He always wanted to be a jockey, like his father, and that is what motivated him to leave home at age 17 to pursue his career. Though leaving his home country of Mexico for Canada was a big leap, Gutierrez said he never hesitated. However, the move didn’t come without its struggles — above all, not being able to speak English upon his arrival in Vancouver.

“None; I couldn’t speak a word,” Gutierrez told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani in an interview. “I think that was the most hard part in the beginning. Being in Vancouver, away from home, not being able to communicate with anybody.”

Six years later, his English has obviously improved as his career has taken off.

After winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes last month, Gutierrez and his horse, I’ll Have Another, were one win away from winning the coveted Triple Crown before they were forced to withdraw from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978.

While Gutierrez will not get a chance to end that drought this weekend, it does not take away from his accomplishments this year — a success story that is even more striking considering the circumstances he was forced to rise from.

“I think about how things were 20 years ago and I just respect so much my parents because I really don’t know how they did it. I can’t imagine myself having a kid and then knowing that my kid probably won’t have anything to eat tomorrow … and have a smile on my face,” he said. “I don’t know how my family did it. I would break. I think they’re the strongest people in the world just to make us survive during that time.”

Despite coming from extreme poverty, the soft-spoken success story said he’s always had a positive attitude.

“I remember being seven-years old, eight-years old, I was a happy kid, you know? I didn’t have those worries. I didn’t have no shoes, but I didn’t worry about it because I was happy … I didn’t understand how hard life was. I was a happy kid. We didn’t have money but we were ok with it,” Gutierrez said.

His home and his family are never far from Gutierrez’s thoughts. In fact he even used his winnings from his first two years in Canada to buy his mother a house back in Veracruz.

“It means a lot because we never had a house. We never had much…I moved out to Vancouver and started doing well and all I can think about is, ‘Just buy a lot for my mom.’”

“So with my winnings from the first year and second year I bought the land and I built them a house,” he said smiling.

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