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Jockey Mario Gutierrez ridding Devil Disguise waves to the crowd as he make his way out to the start of fourth race at the Hastings Racecourse in vancouver July 2, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Jockey Mario Gutierrez ridding Devil Disguise waves to the crowd as he make his way out to the start of fourth race at the Hastings Racecourse in vancouver July 2, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Breeders’ Cup

After a near shot at Triple Crown, Reddam and Gutierrez back together Add to ...

If we had won the Triple Crown,” J. Paul Reddam was saying this week, “they would have made a movie about it in 20 years time. And if they did – and they would have – the key character in the movie would have been Mario.”

Mario is Mario Gutierrez, the 26-year-old jockey from Vera Cruz, Mexico, via Vancouver, who rode Reddam’s I’ll Have Another to victory in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes this year. The two were poised to make history – with a chance to pull off the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 – when I’ll Have Another pulled up lame and had to be scratched just before the Belmont Stakes. Tests revealed a torn tendon. I’ll Have Another was sold to Big Red Farm, a Japanese breeder, for $10-million (all currency U.S.) and retired to stud.

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Rags to riches is not an uncommon theme in thoroughbred racing, but the Reddam-Gutierrez partnership – a Canadian caper of sorts – had the sort of twisting, turning plot that likely would translate well to the silver screen. Reddam is originally from Windsor, Ont., and is a former philosophy professor at the University of California (Los Angeles). Gutierrez spent his formative years as a jockey at Vancouver’s Hastings Park.

They will be reunited four times on Saturday for the second day of the $25.5-million Breeders’ Cup, and they will need to conjure a little magic to get back in the winner’s circle. Three of Gutierrez’s mounts, including Handsome Mike in the $5-million Classic, are going off at 30 to 1. Oddsmakers suggest Gutierrez’s best chance to win will be aboard He’s Had Enough, a 20-to-1 shot in the Grey Goose Juvenile.

The other Canadian entry in the Classic is Pool Play, trained by Mark Casse from Toronto’s Woodbine racetrack. Pool Play is going off at 30-to-1 odds.

Game On Dude, last year’s Classic runner-up, is the 9-to-5 favourite.

Rafael Bejarano is up instead of Chantal Sutherland, the Winnipeg-born jockey who had the ride last year and was overtaken down the stretch by Drosselmeyer. Sutherland retired recently after dropping the reins on Game On Dude at Del Mar Racetrack in the Pacific Classic.

He’s Had Enough, incidentally, is a reference to cookie, not alcohol, consumption, in the same way that Reddam’s fondness for his wife’s baking skills is how I’ll Have Another was named.

Reddam previously won Breeders’ Cup races in 2004 with Wilko and in 2007 with Red Rocks, but he rates his best chance Saturday in the Juvenile Turf with Know More, which will be ridden by Garrett Gomez.

Reddam said jokingly that he has “one horse and five dogs” in the running Saturday.

“The other horses running are all long shots,” he said. “The thing is, if you enter five long shots and one comes close to winning or wins, it’s a good thing. When you start as a 4-to-5 favourite, winning is kind of a relief, and if you lose, you’re bitterly disappointed. But if you win with a long shot, you have that great high.”

Reddam, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Toronto, likes to talk about racing as “intermittent reinforcement” and says:

“In a horse race, if you have nine starters, there are eight losers, whereas in [team] sports, you have one winner and one loser. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with that. But I was never afraid to take a chance. The thing about horse racing is, it’s all a matter of what your expectations are. I’ve learned to temper my expectations.

“The funny thing about the Triple Crown experience is, I never imagined the next step, so it was kind of the same way before the Belmont. I just rolled with the moment. So the day before, when he was scratched, it was upsetting, but I never went into a depression or anything like that.”

Gutierrez returned to Vancouver after his breakthrough in the spring, and is now trying to ride in California full-time. But he still has connections in Canada, and on Friday in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon he rode Commander for Canadian trainer Troy Taylor.

In his years living in Vancouver, Gutierrez became an ardent Canucks supporter, which seems to be the only point of dispute with Reddam, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things relating to the Detroit Red Wings. Until he won the Kentucky Derby this year, Reddam said his greatest sporting memory came in 2002, when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup and he made his way into the dressing room to watch the celebrations.

On Wednesday night, at its annual awards banquet, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters presented Gutierrez with the Mr. Fitz Award (typifying the spirit of racing). Gary Stevens, a Hall of Fame jockey, and Reddam supplied the introductory remarks.

Stevens said of Gutierrez’s meteoric rise this year: “He adds five lengths to every horse he climbs on. That’s how much they’re going to improve.”

Reddam then spoke about telephoning Gutierrez with the bad news about I’ll Have Another’s injury at the Belmont and said the rider handled it “with absolute class. … He’s ridden a lot of horses for me. Unfortunately, some of them need an extra 10 lengths.”

Reddam said his only regret is that after all their successes together, Gutierrez insists on calling him “Mr. Reddam. I wish he’d call me Paul.”

To which Gutierrez answered, upon receiving the award: “Thank you … Paul,” to laughs all around.

While Gutierrez was asking about the NHL lockout Wednesday, any conversation with Reddam also seemed to drift toward hockey. Reddam had many of the guests in the Chandelier Room at Santa Anita Park identified by the teams they support – the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman with the Los Angeles Kings, for example, and Gutierrez with the Canucks.

Discussing how he imagines the plot line of the Gutierrez movie developing, Reddam put it this way:

“Riding at Hastings Park is the equivalent of playing in a hockey beer league. Then there’s a miracle injury and you get on the big team and you go on to win the championship.”

Then he thought of another parallel.

“Or it’s like the Red Wings and Mike Babcock letting Ville Leino go [in 2010] because they couldn’t find a fit for him, and he goes on to score a pile of points for Philadelphia [21 in 19 games] in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year.”

Yes, unbelievably, Ville Leino anecdotes, sprinkled into a racing conversation. The man knows his hockey almost as well as his horse racing.

The Juvenile Turf is the first of nine Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, so Reddam will know soon enough if Know More, an 8-to-1 shot, can come through for him.

“Know More has a double meaning,” Reddam said. “It means no more cookies just like I’ve Had Enough means no more cookies. And then it’s also just know more. Because it’s always better to know more than to know less, right?”

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