New York jockey, trainer combo hoping to win their first Kentucky Derby

Jockey Reylu Gutierrez and trainer Johnny Ortiz are riding Barber Road into Kentucky Derby 148.
Published: May. 4, 2022 at 4:50 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A gentle touch of the snout is how jockey Reylu Gutierrez greets Barber Road.

The connection between the two is still as smooth as it was in October, when Gutierrez rode this horse for the first time.

“The first time I rode him, he just took me around as a passenger, so I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Gutierrez said.

Seven months later, the duo is looking to make history at Kentucky Derby 148. A race that, as a kid, Gutierrez did not know much about.

“I’ll be honest, I never really cared about the Derby or Kentucky racing,” Gutierrez said. “I just cared about New York. The Belmont was everything to me.”

Gutierrez spent much of his childhood more than 600 miles away at Finger Lakes Racetrack in Farmington, New York. He was born and bred into a New York racing family.

His father was a trainer. Two of his uncles were trainers. His third uncle was a jockey.

“I just always wanted to hang out with my dad,” Gutierrez said. “I always wanted to be around the people of Finger Lakes, because I grew up with them. They just taught me how to have responsibility and just be a better person.”

As a teenager, Gutierrez took time away from the racetrack. He attended and graduated from SUNY Cortland, earning a degree in exercise science.

However, while checking his student loan account on a study abroad trip in Germany, he suddenly thought saddling up for real sounded like a good idea.

“I was sitting in Germany with one of best friends, and we were just talking about what are we going to do with our lives after graduation,” Gutierrez said. “And he just said, ‘Dude, why don’t you be a jockey, you’re natural for that.’ And then I just happened to be looking at my FAFSA account at the same time, and I was in such student loan debt, that I was just like, ‘Yeah, maybe I should take that up.’”

Gutierrez came back to Finger Lakes and started his career as a jockey.

He quickly took off, winning a Grade Three race as an apprentice and many more after that.

Over the years, he’s created enough buzz to catch the eye of another New Yorker, trainer John Ortiz from Elmont, who had horse racing pedigree of his own growing up near Belmont Park.

Ortiz knew he had a horse for this up-and-coming star and introduced Gutierrez to Barber Road.

“New York guys, we stick together, you know what it is,” Ortiz said. “I’m walking here.”

The 26-year-old kid from Farmington, in his first Kentucky Derby, and the trainer from Elmont, with his first Derby starter, will ride 600 miles into Kentucky on Barber Road, hoping the next mile and a quarter of the journey puts them both on the map

“To get this opportunity is very humbling and I just hope that people can see that, ‘Hey, this is the youngest guy here and big things are coming for him,’” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez also plans to ride Hidden Connection in the Kentucky Oaks.

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