This weekend, Garrett Gomez hopes to pick up where he left off before fate dealt him a debilitating blow nearly three months ago.
The 40-year-old Tucson native, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s outstanding jockey and four-time national earnings leader, remarkably had six stakes wins in the first two weeks of the meet before he suffered a broken left heel in a freak accident on Jan. 8.
After riding one horse in his return on March 9, Gomez took off his remaining mount that day. The pain in his heel was too intense.
Fast forward to Thursday, March 22. Gomez is back in the saddle, accepting two mounts, riding Kelly Leak to a strong second-place finish by a length behind 8-5 favorite Crossing The Line in the fifth race and Rauschenberg to a third-place finish in the seventh.
Next up: stakes mounts at Santa Anita this weekend, on Sunday aboard Hog’s Hollow in the Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes at a mile and a half on turf, and Cambina in the Grade II Santa Ana Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1 /8 miles on turf. On Saturday, Gomez rides Twice the Appeal for Jeff Bonde in the Tokyo City Cup.
He’s ready. “It’s not the (surgically inserted) screws or the plate that hurts,” Gomez said after his ride on Kelly Leak. “The pain comes from the scar tissue and from the tendon that runs behind the ankle. I’ve been able to strengthen the muscle in that area and that’s helped a lot.”
There was more progress Friday morning. “Everything’s a little bit stronger,” Gomez said. “The pain is still kind of there but everything feels better. I used it pretty hard yesterday.”
As for Sunday’s stakes engagements, he had near-total recall.
“Cambina is small but mighty,” said Gomez, who has ridden the Irish-bred filly five times, winning three straight stakes on the daughter of Hawk Wing at Santa Anita in 2011. “She’s not very big but she tries her heart out. She loves what she does and she usually runs a pretty good race for me, so hopefully we can get her to run another one on Sunday.
“She didn’t run that bad the other day (fifth, beaten a length and a quarter under Mike Smith). She was wide (breaking from the outside 11 post going a mile on turf in the Buena Vista Stakes), and she was coming off a layoff since the Breeders’ Cup (Filly & Mare Turf last Nov. 4). Hopefully she’ll come back and improve off her first run of the year.”
Gomez, a finalist for election to racing’s Hall of Fame this year, rode Hog’s Hollow only once previously, finishing second in a maiden allowance race at Santa Anita two years ago. The San Luis Rey marks the first stakes race for the Paddy Gallagher-trained Kentucky-bred.
“I don’t remember a whole lot about him,” Gomez said, “but Paddy does a good job. He brings his horses over in good shape and hopefully he’ll end up in the winner’s circle. This is a mile and a half race, but that distance here is like a shorter race than a mile and a half race elsewhere, because of the firmer and faster ground.
“Here, I don’t think it’s a true mile and a half race, so horses that show on paper they can get a mile and a quarter can get a mile and a half here, I think. You don’t have to be a true mile and a half horse here, but you still have to have some stamina. My horse should get the mile and a half fine.”
Gomez is optimistic after enduring his unexpectedly lengthy absence.
“I could probably have continued to ride (after his initial return on March 9), but the pain was so bad, and the main objective was to come back in time to ride Out of Bounds. That’s why I was trying to rush back, but there was no reason to do that after experiencing that pain.
“I wanted to make sure the injury healed better and my pain level had subsided dramatically. This time, I was able to get on a couple of horses (before riding on Thursday). Even if I had wanted to get on horses I wanted to try and ride last time, I couldn’t have, because I wasn’t healed enough.
“We were trying to return within a certain time line and tried to time it right, but with everything kind of falling apart with Out of Bounds (himself sidelined with an injury detected following a workout at Hollywood Park on March 5) and the pain I had, it just didn’t work.
“The additional two weeks were beneficial, so now maybe we can get it going.”
The field for the Santa Ana: Vamo a Galupiar, Mike Smith, 9-2; Cambina, Garrett Gomez,
7-2; Hard to Resist, Chantal Sutherland, 20-1; Strawberrydaiquiri, Mario Gutierrez, 4-1; Imperialistic Diva, Brice Blanc, 30-1; Camelia Rose, Joel Rosario, 4-1; Wild Mia, David Flores,
8-1; Hard Seven, Edwin Maldonado, 50-1; Bauble Queen, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Andina, Victor Espinoza, 20-1; and City to City, Corey Nakatani, 9-2.
The field for the San Luis Rey: Hog’s Hollow, Garrett Gomez, 8-1; Utopian, Mike Smith, 2-1; Porfido, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; Highway Bandit, Joe Talamo, 10-1; Bourbon Bay, Joel Rosario, 9-5; and Slim Shadey, David Flores, 2-1.
CHAMPION ACCLAMATION STARTS WORK TOMORROW FOR HIS RETURN
California-bred Acclamation, Eclipse Award winner as 2011’s Outstanding Older Male, is scheduled to have his first workout Saturday since suffering a bruise to his right foot following his fifth straight stakes victory, in the Grade II Clement L. Hirsch at Santa Anita last Oct. 2.
“He’ll breeze tomorrow, five-eighths on the turf,” trainer Don Warren said of the 6-year-old Unusual Heat horse. “He’ll go as slow as you can get a horse like him to go, maybe 1:04 or 1:05.” Fernando Valenzuela will be aboard.
“We missed the Breeders’ Cup with him last year,” Warren said, “but with any luck, we hope to make it when it’s run this year at Santa Anita (Nov. 2 and 3).”
BODEMEISTER GETS DOWN AND DIRTY IN WORK FOR BAFFERT
Bob Baffert received an unexpected benefit for Bodemeister Friday morning when the San Felipe Stakes runner-up worked in company with Splendid Fortune.
The two were part of a pack of 10 that went off simultaneously at the 8 o’clock break and also finished together.
“I’ve never seen that happen before, ever,” said private clocker Toby Turrell, who has been timing horses for 30 years. “It was a sight to see.”
Said Baffert: “When Bodemeister broke off, there must have been 10 horses breaking off at the same time. He (jockey Martin Garcia) got him behind and the horse came back filthy dirty but he was fine. He couldn’t have had a better work schooling today with the dirt hitting him.”
Bodemeister, a candidate for either the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 or the Arkansas Derby on April 14, was timed in 46.80. Splendid Fortune, under Rafael Bejarano, was given 47.60.
The leader in the 10 pack was Mensa Heat, going five furlongs in 59.60 for Ted H. West, who has the 6-year-old Unusual Heat gelding ticketed for the Potrero Grande Stakes on April 7.
FORMER WOOLF WINNERS ON HAND SUNDAY AS DOMINGUEZ RECEIVES 2012 AWARD
Two-time Eclipse Award winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, selected as the 63rd winner of the prestigious Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, will accept the award in a ceremony after the fifth race at Santa Anita on Sunday.
Dominguez will be joined in the winner’s circle by several past winners of the prestigious award that is voted on annually by jockeys nationwide.
Among past winners who have committed to being here Sunday are: Ray York (1955), Alex Maese (1966), Donald Pierce (1967), Laffit Pincay Jr. (1970), Frank Olivares (1977), Eddie Delahoussaye (1981), Patrick Valenzuela (1982), Mike Smith (2000) and Garrett Gomez (2011).
The Woolf Award honors riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing.
Dominguez, a 35-year-old native of Venezuela, outpolled fellow finalists Corey Lanerie, Martin Pedroza, DeShawn Parker and Scott Stevens (Gary’s older brother) to win one of racing’s most coveted awards.
America’s leading jockey by number of wins in 2001 and 2003, Dominguez won back-to-back Eclipse Awards as North America’s champion jockey in 2010 and 2011. In addition, Dominguez won the Isaac Murphy Award in 2004 for having the highest win percentage among American-based riders.
Dominguez has two Breeders’ Cup wins, the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf with Better Talk Now and the 2011 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile this past November at Churchill Downs with Hansen.
Born Nov. 24, 1976 in Caracas, Venezuela, Dominguez began riding at Hialeah Park in Florida in 1996. He has become a dominant force in New York, with 13 NYRA riding titles since 2007-08.
The Woolf Award was created to honor and memorialize legendary jockey George “The Iceman” Woolf, who was regarded as one of the greatest big money-riders of his era and who died following a spill on Santa Anita’s Club House turn on Jan. 3, 1946. The Woolf trophy is a replica of the full-size statue of the late jockey which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.
Dominguez resides in New York with his wife Sharon and son Alexander.
BREEDERS’ CUP CHAMPION AMAZOMBIE WORKS SIX FURLONGS IN 1:13
Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Amazombie worked six furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Friday in 1:13. “He galloped out in (one) 26 and change,” trainer Bill Spawr said of the 6-year-old California-bred, who could make his next start in the Potrero Grande Stakes on April 7.
“He was already cooled out when he got back to the barn,” Spawr said. Jockey Alex Bisono, who was aboard for the drill, called the move “excellent.”
CROSSING THE LINE WINS HIS 10TH RACE AT THE AGE OF 10
Crossing The Line is still going strong at age 10. The New Zealand-bred gelding won for the 10th time in a 20-race career when he powered home from next to last in a field of 10 to capture Thursday’s fifth race by a length under Joel Rosario, who won four races on the eight-race card to open a commanding 70-54 lead over runner-up Rafael Bejarano in Santa Anita’s riding standings.
“He’s a great horse,” trainer John Sadler said of the son of Cape Cross owned by Richard Templer of Chicago, who races as Doubledown Stables, Inc. “He’s got a great record. He doesn’t know how to run a bad race. We enjoy having him and we’re going to keep him around as long it still looks like it’s fun for him.”
Crossing The Line also has four seconds and three thirds, with earnings of $376,448.
“He had a stretch during the middle of his career when he wasn’t running, so it’s not like he has 100 starts,” Sadler added. “He’s like a 10-year-old with 25 starts. He’s got low mileage, like the car the little old lady from Pasadena used to drive only to church on Sunday mornings.”
OPENINGS AVAILABLE FOR CHARITY GOMEZ GOLF TOURNAMENT APRIL 9
Spots for foursomes are still available for the Garret Gomez/Winners Foundation Golf Tournament on April 9 at Angeles National Golf Club. Various prizes will be awarded to the top three foursomes, for Hole-in-One opportunities, in addition to golfer goodie bags, lunch, dinner, silent auction and live auction hosted by former Angel and Dodger Jay Johnstone.
There will also be playing appearances by former Dodgers Rudy Law and Bobby Castillo
and former Oakland A’s two-time World Series winner John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom.
Jockey participants include Raphael Bejarano, Joe Talamo, David Flores, Joel Rosario and Alonso Quinonez. Long drive Champion Frank Miller will be in attendance to hit a drive at hole 13.
Each participant will also receive an autographed copy of the upcoming Garrett Gomez autobiography. For additional info log onto http://www.winnersfoundation.org , email or call 626-574-6498.
FINISH LINES: Going and coming dept: Keibar Coa will return to Florida to ride after honoring his engagement on 20-1 morning line chance Terrella for owner/trainer Walter Frazier in today’s eighth race. The 19-year-old son of jockey Eibar Coa had one win and a third from 18 mounts at Santa Anita through Thursday. “I learned a lot here,” Coa said. “The jockeys helped me a lot and the trainers gave me an opportunity.” Coa won the first race of his career when he piloted Five Star Cruise to victory for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer on March 10. Meanwhile, veteran jockey Iggy Puglisi resumes his career aboard Woodman’s Lass for trainer Paul Aguirre in today’s third race. “I took a hiatus for nearly a year just to get my body, knees, weight in shape,” the 37-year-old Puglisi said. “I’ve been getting on horses in the mornings for six or seven months and Paul has always been my main guy, so I’m looking forward to coming back.” . . . Kalookan Queen winner Rumor, who bled in the Grade I Santa Monica Stakes on Jan. 28, had her first breeze Thursday since that race, going four furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track in 47.60. “We just gave her a little rest,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said. “We’ll give her a couple more works and then see where we’re going.” . . . California Flag, an 8-year-old California-bred son of Avenue of Flags who hasn’t raced since the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last Nov. 5, worked six furlongs on turf Thursday in 1:12.60. Trainer Brian Koriner is preparing the 2009 Turf Sprint winner for the Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap at about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf on April 21 . . . At Hollywood Park Friday, multiple stakes winner Rail Trip worked three furlongs for Ron Ellis in 37 flat, breezing, while San Carlos runner-up Sway Away went five furlongs in a bullet 58.40 for Jeff Bonde . . . Mike Pender has multiple stakes winner Ultimate Eagle, who disappointed as the favorite when caught in an unanticipated pace duel in the Santa Anita Handicap, ticketed for the $1 million Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles in West Virginia on April 14. The trainer said his other major stakes winner, Jeranimo, is being given a break with plans calling for a return to the races at Del Mar . . . ShowVivor2 contestants were down to 140 going into Friday’s races . . . Steve Andersen will host Saturday’s Daily Racing Form seminar at 11:30 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens, while on Sunday, HRTV’s Kurt Hoover and Jason Levin of “Inside Racing” on KTLK-AM Los Angeles (1150) at 7 a.m. Saturdays will be Jack Disney’s guest on the Fans’ Forum seminar, 11:15 a. m., also in the East Paddock Gardens, weather permitting.