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Kentucky Derby winner found the right words at Hastings Park Learning Centre

Caption: Mario Gutierrez rode I’ll Have Another to victory at the 2012 Kentucky Derby. (Photograph by: Cecilia G. Felix Photography, Jim Reynolds/HorseRacingBC)

Thursday, May 10, 2012
Contact:  Shelley Kean at 604.983.7596

(NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C.)—Winning jockey at this year’s Kentucky Derby, Mario Gutierrez, had his teachers at the Learning Centre at Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse jumping for joy when he crossed the finish line in first place.

“I want to thank all my supporters in Vancouver and my friends at Hastings Park,” he gulped between breaths while bouncing towards the winner’s circle atop the race’s fastest horse, I’ll Have Another.

When the 25-year-old jockey first arrived at Hastings Park six years ago, his only language was Spanish. He participated in a Spanglish program at the Hastings Park Learning Centre, which is operated through Capilano University’s Community Development and Outreach department. In the program, Gutierrez honed his English-speaking skills and the rest, as they say, is history.

“There were a few tears and a lot of laughter and clapping,” said John Brooks, one of the learning centre instructors who watched the race that day. “You know how they say that good things happen to good people? Well, Mario is one of those people and we wish him continued success.”

The HPLC got its start in 2000 when the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association contacted Capilano University’s CDO.  They highlighted the need for literacy instruction at Hastings Racecourse, which eventually led to the establishment of the learning centre.

The centre is the pride and preoccupation of Jeannie Spence, a former jockey, current horse owner/ trainer, and a former director of HBPA. Spence has tutored employees for more than 30 years and was recently recognized by ABC Life Literacy Canada with the 2011 Dr. Alan Middleton Workplace Literacy and Learning Award.

Frank Fuentes is another jockey at Hastings Park who has benefitted from the learning centre. Originally from Mexico, Fuentes improved his English as a Second Language skills to better communicate with the owners and trainers about their horse before a race.

The centre also provides racetrack staff an opportunity to access another new on-site learning venture called the Hastings Racecourse Groom School. Groom School is an intensive two-week program that teaches participants how to properly care for and groom thoroughbred horses. Once accredited, a groom can work almost anywhere in North America.

Other courses offered through the learning centre include a Grade 12 equivalency program and a new Adult Basic Education program, plus courses in art, yoga and first-aid. Many students of the centre have gone on to attend university or trade schools. 

In addition to jockeys and grooms, the centre also caters to hot walkers, exercise riders, blacksmiths, various front-side people, such as tellers and hospitality staff, and workers from the Pacific National Exhibition, where the track is located. Their children are also welcome to attend. It is open seven days a week from noon until 10 p.m. More information on Capilano University’s CDO department can be found here.

As for Vancouver’s latest hometown hero, the board of HBPA said on its blog, “We are probably not going to see a lot of Mario on horseback at Hastings again … (but) the light that was shining on him on Derby Day was bright enough to reflect back on this place and those of us still here. It brightened up our corner of the world and we feel better about where we are and ourselves. We are proud of Mario and in many ways we were riding with him.”



One Response

  1. Very nice article!

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