• POPULAR HORSEMEN RETURN TO SANTA ANITA TODAY
Anyone who doesn’t believe Garrett Gomez has been to hell and back should read his
book, “The Garrett Gomez Story: A Jockey's Journey Through Addiction & Salvation,” in which the Tucson native describes his lengthy battles with alcohol and drug addiction, and his ultimate recovery.
Today, Gomez is at the top of his profession, a world-class jockey who celebrates his 41st birthday on New Year’s Day. He is coming off a quietly sensational Betfair Hollywood Park meet, where he finished in a tie for fourth with 20 victories from just 67 mounts, but sported a sparkling 30 percent winning average.
He is riding like Eddie Delahoussaye reincarnate, since many of his victories have come from well off the pace, ala Eddie D. in his heyday. It is not necessarily by design.
“I just try to read my horses,” Gomez said. “I try and let them be as comfortable as they can and make them happy. I’m one of those guys who feels I can get one to finish as fast as most of them start.
“As long as they’re happy and traveling well at the beginning of a race, you’ll have a happy horse at the end of a race. I’m a big believer in getting a horse to be happy. If you’ve got a happy horse, it will be willing to perform for you.”
Some times it’s not as easy as all that.
“If you have a horse that wants to do a lot early, and you can’t get it to relax, more than likely it’s not going to really finish all that well,” Gomez said. “But if the horse leaves there (starting gate) real quiet and relaxes and the pace is soft enough, you can always move a horse forward throughout a race.
“If the pace is slow, you can put it in a little better spot. I don’t know if my winning from behind has anything to do with the track or anything like that. I think I’ve been on the right horses lately.”
Credit for that would go in large part to his agent, veteran Tony Matos, who also represents Alonso Quinonez.
Being comfortable on the home front is significant in Garrett’s personal contentment.
“There’s not a lot of traveling going on, and I get to see my kids and my wife every day,” Gomez said. “I have some sort of a life now and I’m enjoying it.”
Julien Leparoux is another top jock pleased with a reduction in his frequent flier mileage.
Married earlier this month to trainer Mike Mitchell’s daughter, Shea, the 29-year-old Leparoux moved his base of operations from the East Coast to Southern California as a familial accommodation.
“It feels good to be here as a regular,” Leparoux said. “It’s like beginning a new life, really. I’m able to stay in one place; it’s very exciting.”
ASCANIO, STUTE OFF THE INJURED RESERVE LIST TODAY
Two of Southern California’s most popular horsemen are scheduled to come of the injured reserve list today at Santa Anita.
Humberto Ascanio, Bobby Frankel’s popular and capable assistant for more than three decades, will present the trophy to the winning connections of today’s Robert J. Frankel Stakes. It will mark the first visit to Santa Anita for Ascanio since he suffered a stroke in December of 2011 and had to abandon his career as a trainer in his own right.
Mel Stute also is scheduled to make an appearance at Santa Anita today. The 85-year-old retired trainer had been in rehab since hitting his head in a fall in West Los Angeles two weeks ago. “I have three horses in today and one is owned by his wife (Annabelle),” said Mel’s son, trainer Gary Stute, who has nearly half of his eight-horse stable running today.
FINISH LINES: Saturday was a memorable day for basketball coaching great and horse racing aficionado Rick Pitino. Not only did a horse in which he owns a major share—Avare—win the Eddie Logan Stakes, his Louisville Cardinals simultaneously defeated arch-rival Kentucky, 80-77. Avare (pronounced A-var, not A-var-eh) is named for Rick Avare, Pitino’s business manager. Avare played basketball for Transylvania University in Lexington. His son will be a walk-on at UK next year . . .Garrett Gomez was named on five horses Saturday: four of them were scratched . . . Corey Nakatani, involved in a fourth-race spill yesterday, took off his scheduled two mounts today. “He’s really body sore,” said his agent, Brian Beach. “He’s doing therapy today and hopes to ride tomorrow.” . . . When Free Time bounded home to a 4 ¼-length victory under Tyler Baze at a $15.60 payoff in yesterday’s second race, it marked the first win for trainer Howie Zucker since opening day at Del Mar. “That’s a long time, but we only have eight head,” Zucker said. “The purse wasn’t that big ($16,000) but it means a lot to the barn because it gives them an emotional boost. Most of the horses I’ve entered have run well, and we look forward to better things in the New Year.” Zucker praised Santa Anita’s main track, which endured much rain prior to Saturday’s races. “It held up great and it seems very safe,” he said. “It’s taken the water well the way it’s been managed.” . . . Probable for next Sunday’s Grade II Monrovia Stakes for older fillies and mares at about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf: Broken Dreams, Gomez; Byrama, Rafael Bejarano; Kindle, Edwin Maldonado; and Mizdirection, Mike Smith . . . Probable for next Saturday’s Grade II San Pasqual Stakes for older horses at 1 1/16 miles: Bank the Eight, Bejarano; Coil, Martin Garcia; Jaycito, Julien Leparoux; and John Scott, Victor Espinoza . . . Santa Anita will offer $2 beers, hot dogs and sodas tomorrow, New Year’s Eve, and a free Santa Anita Commuter Mug to all THOROUGHBRED members at Santa Anita, while supplies last, on Tuesday, New Year’s Day. Santa Anita will be dark next Wednesday and Thursday and resume racing Friday, Jan. 4 at 1 p.m., not 12:30 as previously reported.