They called George Woolf ”The Iceman.” Label Garrett Gomez “The Miracle Man.”
Two days after escaping a one-horse spill with relatively minor injuries, the nation’s leading money-winning jockey in 2008 was back in the saddle, riding five horses at Santa Anita Monday in pursuit of his third dollar crown, and Jerry Bailey’s single season record of $23,354,960, set in 2003.
In his first ride back, Gomez, who turns 37 on New Year’s Day, won in storybook fashion, rallying from last aboard Suit Yourself to win going away by 1 ¼ lengths in the 6 ½ furlong race. With two wins and a fourth-place finish from four rides Monday, his mounts earned $29,560, leaving Gomez $79,454 shy of Bailey’s mark.
In the accident, Gomez had lost three upper front teeth, suffered a gash on his left knee, and a swollen left hand after the 2-year-old colt Back At You veered in during the stretch and hit the rail, unseating Gomez in the seventh race. Gomez was taken to Arcadia Methodist Hospital where he was released that night after being treated. The experience was more than surreal.
“When I was getting wheeled into the emergency room, I thought I would be out a while,” Gomez said before his first mount on Monday. “My hand was swollen with a lump the size of a golf ball and I thought I broke something. I couldn’t move my knee, and I knew my teeth were missing. The rest of my body didn’t feel that bad, but I was hurtin’ a lot.
“They gave me something for pain and took X-rays, then gave me something else for pain and swelling, and I probably laid there an hour and a half. Within that time, my whole body just transformed to where I felt 70 percent better from the time I got there.
“When they released me, I had a knee brace on where I couldn’t bend my knee, and a butterfly stitch in the knee. On the way home I got a little sick from the medication, but later on that night, I didn’t feel that bad. Sunday morning, in the back of my mind, I was actually thinking I might be able to pull it off (and ride that day).
“But I wasn’t 100 percent and I didn’t want to risk not giving my best or needlessly endangering my future. I couldn’t move my hand as much as I wanted. It was still real swollen, and it was still swollen when I came back Monday, but I could move it well enough to ride.”
Breaking Bailey’s record was not a motivating factor for Gomez, who had six wins from 14 mounts through Monday, an average of 43 percent.
“Winning, period, is a motivation,” Gomez said. “It was the start of a brand new meet, and the record is still attainable if we get lucky enough. More important, I wanted to continue, because out of sight is out of mind. I wanted to get back into action. Thursday is a brand new year and I didn’t want to miss any time if I didn’t have to, money record or no.”
Gomez still can’t explain exactly how the mishap occurred.
“I was leading when it happened, and I still don’t know why it happened,” he recalled. “Turning for home the horse kind of sulked a couple times. He pinned his ears and I threw a couple crosses at him. He started to switch leads and I gave him room to do that, but he took more room than I wanted him to, and when I grabbed him, he didn’t respond to that.
“He was right on top of the fence but instead of hitting it, he actually jumped into it, and I’m like, ‘Aw, man!’ I had his head completely turned to the right when he jumped, to try and stop him, but he still jumped. You replay the incident in your mind thinking maybe you could have done something different, but I don’t think I could.
“There was a big shadow on the track, and maybe that had something to do with it, but 99 horses before him had run into it and nothing happened. I’m just happy to be here in one piece.”
HARTY NEWCOMER CONTENTIOUS IMPROVING FOR SATURDAY’S MONROVIA
Contentious makes her second start for Eoin Harty in Saturday’s Grade III Monrovia Handicap at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf, and the trainer has reason to think she will continue in good form after running second in an allowance test at one mile on Hollywood Park’s turf course Dec. 3. Contentious was previously trained by Shug McGaughey.
“I had her for that one race,” Harty said. “McGaughey had her in New York and they (new owners Lewis Lakin and Becky Thomas) bought her from the Phippses (who also bred Contentious). She ran very well on the turf at Hollywood, just got a little bit tired. She was coming off a long layoff (June 26 at Belmont Park). I don’t know whether she’s good enough or not (to win the Monrovia), but it’s an opportunity to get some black type.”
Contentious, a 5-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway, has a 2-5-2 record from 14 starts, nine overseas, with earnings of $94,815. The Monrovia will be her first stakes start in the U.S.
In other Monrovia news:
Trainer Mark Glatt expects the speedy La Tee to show improvement from her 10th-place finish at 105-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Oak Tree last Oct. 24.
“She’s run good down the hill,” Glatt said. “I think she fits in there, so we’re going to take our best shot. It depends upon how the race comes up (whether she will be in front or not). Ideally, I’d like to see her laying off of a couple of horses, just off the pace, but if the race comes up without any early speed, I don’t mind trying to steal it, either.”
La Tee, a 5-year-old Washington-bred daughter of Broken Vow, has a 3-3-2 record from 12 starts, with earnings of $180,581 for owners Susan and Allen Branch of Los Gatos, CA.
The field for the 42nd running of the Monrovia, for older fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf: Lethal Heat, Alex Solis, 118; Jibboom, Garrett Gomez, 115; La Tee, Joel Rosario, 115; Trouble Maker, Victor Espinoza, 116; Royal Taat, Rafael Bejarano, 114; Porto Marmay, David Flores, 114; Society Hostess, Jose Valdivia Jr., 118; That’s Hot, no rider, 115; Contentious, Brice Blanc, 113; Eletro Nuclear, Martin Garcia, 114; Ransom Captive, Mike Smith, 115; and Christiana’s Heat, Michael Baze, 113.
VALBENNY ‘IN WITH HER FRIENDS’ IN SUNDAY’S SAN GORGONIO
With a 5-4-1 record from 16 starts, Valbenny is a consistent mare (she turns five years old on New Year’s Day) who always makes a run. Sunday, the Irish-bred daughter of 2001 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Val Royal seeks her first victory since June 9, 2007, when she runs in the Grade II San Gorgonio Handicap for older fillies and mares scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on turf.
“I don’t know that she has to time everything just right to win,” said trainer Bobby Frankel. “Maybe she just needs her friends.” Valbenny has faced Grade I competition in four of her 13 starts in the U.S. She has one Grade II victory and two Grade III wins.
Frankel, who registered his 900th victory at Santa Anita Sunday when Proudinsky won the San Gabriel Handicap, took the milestone in stride.
“You don’t think of those things,” Frankel said. “But it is great. To be honest with you, I thought I’d have 1,500 by now.” He was kidding, of course. The San Gabriel gave the 67-year-old Frankel his 138th stakes win at Santa Anita, light years behind leader Charlie Whittingham, who has 204. “I don’t think I’ll live long enough to break that record,” Frankel said.
Probable for the 40th San Gorgonio: Belmont Cat, Mike Smith; Green Lyons, Rafael Bejarano; Marzelline, Victor Espinoza; Solar Miss, Garrett Gomez; and Valbenny, Alex Solis.
FIRST POST TIME NEW YEAR’S DAY IS 12 NOON; SUNNY WEATHER CONTINUES
First post time at Santa Anita for Thursday’s 10-race New Year’s Day program is 12 noon. Racing continues through Sunday, Jan. 4, with post time 1 p.m. on Friday, 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Weather.com’s forecast for the Arcadia area calls for mainly sunny skies through Jan. 9.
FINISH LINES: Majormotionpicture, a Triple Crown hopeful trained by Mike Machowsky, worked four furlongs on Pro-Ride Sunday in :48.40. “He’s only had one race,” Machowsky said. “I was going to run him Sunday in that allowance race, but he came up with a temperature a couple weeks ago so I scrapped that. The thinking right now is to run him in either the San Pedro ($70,000, Jan. 19 at 6 ½ furlongs) or the San Rafael (Jan. 17, Grade III at one mile). I’ll work him this Saturday and point for one of those.” . . . Jay Privman, national correspondent for Daily Racing Form and host of Thoroughbred Los Angeles on Saturdays, 9 a.m., on KLAA 830 AM, will be Jerry Antonucci’s guest on the Today’s Racing Digest seminar, Saturday, 11 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens, weather permitting.