NEW YORK – Taking in the Manhattan skyline from atop the Empire State Building, Mario Gutierrez was a long way from his small hometown near Veracruz, Mexico.
The 25-year-old jockey checked out the view Tuesday in his first trip to the Big Apple. Hed already visited the ride that got him here, having stopped by Belmont Park earlier to check on Ill Have Another. Gutierrez and the colt will try to win the Triple Crown for the first time in 34 years Saturday in the Belmont Stakes.
Standing 86 stories above the bustling city, Gutierrez smiled as a knot of photographers closed tightly in on him. Mario, over here, they shouted. Turn this way. He happily obliged as tourists craned their necks to see the short guy who is the poised to become the toast of the racing world.
Gutierrez was thrust into the spotlight with Ill Have Anothers comeback win in the Kentucky Derby on May 5. And the intensity grew after he won the Preakness on May 19.
Hes handled the pressure well and he knows his horse well, former jockey Richard Migliore said. He and the horse both have a lot of confidence in each other and thats something thats critical to their success.
Migliore plans to walk Belmonts 1 1/2 -mile course with Gutierrez on Thursday, pointing out its sweeping turns and long stretch that make the layout different than the mile tracks where most jockeys ride. Gutierrez is scheduled to ride some races Friday to get used to the conditions.
Migliore said hell caution Gutierrez not to be tricked into starting his final drive too early or else Ill Have Another might not have enough left to get through the 1,097-yard stretch.
If you have one momentary lapse where you start to allow your horse to go forward, its hard to take it back, said Migliore, who rode successfully at Belmont for years. Then you look up and oh my gosh, you have 4 1/2 furlongs to run. Thats the only thing that Mario has to stay conscious of.
Another horse was added to the field on Tuesday as the owners of My Adonis said their colt would run, bringing the prospective field to 12.
But before the race, a labor dispute at Belmont Park will need to be settled.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, acting as a mediator, urged both sides to reach agreement Tuesday. An official with the union representing maintenance and starting gate workers at the New York racetrack said he hadnt heard of any progress with the New York Racing Association and union leaders.
About 150 union members at NYRAs Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga tracks have been working without a contract since February 2011, a year after the previous contract was given a one-year extension. The workers last month authorized a strike to begin Friday, a day before the running of the Belmont Stakes.