Thursday, January 01, 2009


ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 31, 2008) – After stirring victories aboard his first three mounts of the afternoon on New Year’s Eve at Santa Anita while in dramatic pursuit of Jerry Bailey’s record for purse earnings in a single season, jockey Garrett Gomez needed to win with his final mount in the $76,400 Kalookan Queen Handicap, but a distant third-place finish aboard Baroness Thatcher left him just $10,982 shy of the record $23,354,960 that Bailey’s mounts earned in 2003.

It might have turned out differently for Gomez, who turns 37 on New Year’s Day, had he been able to ride on Sunday, but he was injured in a spectacular spill on Saturday at Santa Anita when his mount, Back At You, suddenly veered into the inner rail during the Eddie Logan Stakes for 2-year-olds.

“In retrospect, though, I’m grateful that I even had a chance,” said Gomez after upsetter Lovely Isle, ridden by Victor Espinoza, took the Kalookan Queen. Despite the loss of three teeth, a swollen thumb and a gash on his knee, he had returned to action on Monday with a pair of wins to narrow the difference to $79,454 before a dark day on Tuesday.

“This was working out to become a pretty good story,” Gomez, his left hand still heavily bandaged, said while recounting how Wednesday had unfolded. “But it was a just a blessing to be riding today,” he added.

His first mount in the third race, Warren’s Appeal, won by a neck while going wire-to-wire in a one-mile turf event to pay $13.60 as a 5-1 outsider. That victory was worth $18,000 and narrowed the gap between Gomez and Bailey to $61,454.

Two races later, Gomez’s mount, Twin Turbo, stormed from last in a $10,000 claimer at seven furlongs to reach the wire by a desperate nose. Twin Turbo, who returned $7.20, earned $7,800. The margin was reduced to $58,654.

Riding the favorite, Kyniska, in the sixth, Gomez’s mount was victorious by a head in the $56,000 allowance event at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Kyniska paid $5.20, earned $33,600, and now the rider nicknamed “Go-Go” was within $20,054 of the mark.

With a first prize of $45,360 awaiting the winner of the Kalookan Queen, the public bet Dearest Trickski down to 6-5 favoritism in the field of seven fillies and mares going 6½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface. Baroness Thatcher was the second choice at 3-1.

The 4-year-old filly, trained by Patrick Biancone, broke well, but was taken in hand by Gomez to track the early leaders while racing in fifth. She made a determined bid turning for home, but was no match for the top pair as Lovely Isle defeated High Resolve by 1¼ lengths with Baroness Thatcher another four lengths behind at the wire. She earned $9,072.

“I knew early on that she wasn’t comfortable,” Gomez said following the race. “Halfway up the backside, she was switching her leads and very uncomfortable. At that point, I had to resort to another plan, and I took her down to the inside to see if she’d run better there. She ran a good race, a much better race than how she was acting at the half-mile pole.”

Gomez reiterated that he had no regrets about missing the record. “What was meant to be was meant to be,” he said. “The fall the other day was unfortunate, but that’s part of our world. I look at it this way. It was time to get some new teeth anyway.”

As for the winner of the Kalookan Queen, Lovely Isle paid $15.40, $7.20 and $4.20 after running the distance in 1:15.31. Runner-up High Resolve, handled by Joel Rosario, returned $8.40 and $5. The show price on Baroness Thatcher was $3. Favored Dearest Trickski faded to sixth after pressing the early pace.

Espinoza expressed little empathy for Gomez’s empty plight. “I needed that win, too,” he stated. Trained by Bobby Frankel for Michael Bello, 3-year-old Florida-bred Lovely Isle bettered her record to 5-2-0 in 12 starts. The winning purse increased her career earnings to $238,376.

On New Year’s Day, Santa Anita will present a 10-race program starting at 12 noon. The featured third race is the Grade III, $100,000 El Conejo Handicap at 5½ furlongs.

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