ELMONT, N.Y. (WROC) — Farmington native and Victor High School grad ReyLú Gutierrez is one of the top young jockeys in the sport. But even he wasn’t expecting the call that he would be riding in the upcoming Belmont Stakes.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” says Gutierrez.
He actually found out the good news through the press. A reporter called him asking him for his thoughts on being chosen to ride Jungle Runner in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
“If that’s the opportunity they’re giving me then I’ve got to prepare,” says Gutierrez. “You’ve got to take it in for a second, but you’ve got to be on your game, because you’re in it to win it.”
Typically, the Belmont Stakes is the final race of the Triple Crown, but the schedule was altered thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gutierrez grew up around horses his whole life. His father is a trainer and his uncle is a fellow jockey. He could see Finger Lakes Racetrack from his house, which is where he began his racing career.
But at first, Gutierrez didn’t see horse racing in his future. He played lacrosse, soccer, and basketball at Victor. He graduated from SUNY Cortland with a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology. It’s very rare for a jockey to have a college degree.
After graduation, he decided to give racing his full attention, beginning an extensive training regimen where he would go running three times a day to cut weight.
He then embarked on a career plan set forth by his uncle. He headed to Florida to compete against the best jockeys in the country. At first, Gutierrez was hesitant.
“I was like, ‘my man, I can not go to Florida,’” says Gutierrez. “These are like hall-of-famers, these are the best of the best, I’m Rey Gutierrez from Farmington, I don’t belong there,”
His uncle eventually convinced him, persuading him by promising to take him to Orlando on a vacation for a week.
After taking some lumps early, his fortunes changed when the veterans left the state in the summer to head to Kentucky and New York. That’s when Gutierrez took over.
“I just started winning races every day,” says Gutierrez.
He was one of three finalists for the 2018 Eclipse Award for apprentice jockeys, horse racing’s equivalent of rookie of the year.
At just 23 years old, he’ll be the youngest rider in tomorrow’s race. It’ll be his first Triple Crown race, an achievement he thought was years down the road.
“To already be riding a Triple Crown race, that doesn’t really happen, to be honest,” says Gutierrez. “That’s very lucky, you kind of feel like you won the lottery.”
Gutierrez will be riding Jungle Runner, a 50-1 longshot, and says there will be no pressure despite the big stage.
“You go with the mindset that I have nothing to lose and I just have everything to gain,” says Gutierrez. “So I’m going to ride as hard as I can and as smart as I can. I’m going to go out there and enjoy myself obviously, but I’m going to do my best to win.”