NO RECORD, BUT GOMEZ IN LINE FOR SECOND STRAIGHT ECLIPSE AWARD

Garrett Gomez missed Jerry Bailey’s single-season earnings mark of $23,354,960 set in 2003 by $10,982 when Baroness Thatcher ran third in Wednesday’s Kalookan Queen Handicap, but all in all, 2008 was a very good year.

Gomez, who turned 37 on New Year’s Day, still outdistanced runner-up Robby Albarado in purse earnings by more than $5 million and is an overwhelming favorite to win his second straight Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding rider.

“He won 67 stakes compared to a record 76 in 2007, and he didn’t ride that much in September,” agent Ron Anderson pointed out. “We also missed time here when we rode in Hong Kong and Japan, so overall it was a great year. He won a lot of million-dollar races and four Breeders’ Cup races; you couldn’t ask for much more.”

Gomez was scheduled to ride three horses that won last Sunday, a day after he was injured in a one-horse spill that cost him his Sunday mounts. A win on one could have given him the record.

“I don’t see how they can give the Eclipse Award to anybody else,” said Anderson, who was stunned that Gomez was able to recover so quickly from losing three upper front teeth and suffering a swollen left hand and a gash on his left knee in the mishap, yet able to ride two days later.

“You could have knocked me over,” Anderson said, “because when we left the hospital (Arcadia Methodist), he said to me, ‘I’m only going to miss a couple days,’ but I thought, he’s going to get up in the morning and feel like a truck ran over him. I went to his house the next morning, he looked at me and said, ‘Look, I told you I’m going to be OK.’ He missed one day and spent most of that day getting his teeth fixed.”



MARZELLINE RETURNS ‘HOME’ FOR SUNDAY’S SAN GORGONIO

After an uncharacteristic and unsuccessful trip to New York, Marzelline is back in California to run in Sunday’s Grade II, $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap for older fillies and mares scheduled for

1 1/8 miles on turf.

“Her last race was kind of disappointing,” trainer Ben Cecil said of the Grade III Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 1, in which Marzelline finished seventh of nine after being wide throughout in the 1 ½-mile turf event. “I still don’t know quite why. It might have been a combination of the shipping, the turf course (firm) and the mile and a half.

“There was nothing around here except a mile, a mile and a sixteenth (races), and I thought they were a little bit short for her,” Cecil added in explaining the decision to run at the Big A. “I thought we’d take a shot at it, but obviously, it didn’t work out too well. She’s doing very well for this race, so hopefully, things will improve Sunday.”

Marzelline, an Irish-bred daughter of the Sadler’s Wells sire Barathea, has a 4-1-2 record from 16 starts, with earnings of $163,407 for owner Peter Harris of the United Kingdom.

The San Gorgonio field: Meribel, Joel Rosario, 115; Tizfiz, Agapito Delgadillo, 114; Solar Miss, Garrett Gomez, 113; Marzelline, Victor Espinoza, 115; Green Lyons, Rafael Bejarano, 114; Belmont Cat, Smith, 114; High Heel Sneakers, Joe Talamo, 115; and Valbenny, Alex Solis, 116.



TIMING IS EVERYTHING FOR CHRISTIANA’S HEAT IN SATURDAY’S MONROVIA

Christiana’s Heat drew the extreme outside 12 post position for Saturday’s Monrovia Handicap at about 6 ½ furlongs down the hill, but Steve Knapp sees the draw as an advantage in the Grade III race for older fillies and mares.

“I think it’s the best position,” the trainer said. “She’s got a lot of speed, so tactically, she should be in a great spot. She’s very consistent, but you can’t move too early with her or she’ll pull herself up, so you have to time it perfectly.”

Christiana’s Heat, a 5-year-old gray daughter of Unusual Heat, was second at 30-1 in the California Cup Distaff Handicap at Oak Tree on Oct. 8, and has a 4-7-2 record from 20 starts for owners Albert and Kathleen Mattivi of Oxnard.

The field for the 42nd running of the Monrovia, for older fillies and mares: Lethal Heat, Alex Solis, 118, 7-2; Jibboom, Garrett Gomez, 115, 9-2; La Tee, Joel Rosario, 115, 6-1; Trouble Maker, Victor Espinoza, 116, 12-1; Royal Taat, Rafael Bejarano, 114, 8-1; Porto Marmay, David Flores, 114, 15-1; Society Hostess, Jose Valdivia Jr., 118, 5-1; That’s Hot, Joe Talamo, 115, 20-1; Contentious, Brice Blanc, 113, 12-1; Eletro Nuclear, Martin Garcia, 114, 20-1; Ransom Captive, Mike Smith, 115, 12-1; and Christiana’s Heat, Michael Baze, 113, 12-1.



TOP PUERTO RICAN RIDER RIOS DEBUTS AT SANTA ANITA JAN. 14

Jesus Rios, a leading rider at Camarero Race Track in his native Puerto Rico the past five years, will make his Santa Anita debut on Jan. 14, agent Tony Matos said.

“His record speaks for itself and I wouldn’t be taking him if I didn’t have every confidence in his ability,” said Matos, who also represents Victor Espinoza. From Jan. 1, 2008 through Dec. 15, Rios won 223 races from 839 mounts at Camarero, placing him second to Juan Diaz, who had 296 wins.



Through Dec. 15, the 26-year-old Rios had won at a 27 percent rate and finished in the money 68 percent of the time at Camarero. Rios, 5-2 and 114 pounds, got his start galloping horses for his father, Wilberto, at the age of 12 and credits his brother, Wilberto Jr., for his tutoring.

“I watched tapes of his rides sent to me from Puerto Rico by Joe Bruno, head of public relations for the newspaper ‘Primera Hora,’” Matos said. “I decided to contact Jesus after I saw them.”

Rios is married to Joan Rios Reveron. They have a 4-month-old son, Ian Manuel.



RACING COMMUNITY RALLIES TO DEAL WITH TRAGEDY

(Excerpted from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Members of the close-knit racing community are still trying to come to grips with the loss of a family who loved their sport.

The Christmas Eve massacre in Covina that resulted in nine deaths had a devastating effect on those at Santa Anita who worked closely with Joseph, James and Charles Ortega.

"This was like a family tradition," jockey agent Richie Silverstein said. "When they had a horse running, it became a family outing."

Joseph, 80, and James, 52, were primary owners of JJO stables and worked closely with trainer David Bernstein, jockey Martin Pedroza and Silverstein.

Charles, 52, maintained an owner's license as well and by all accounts loved the game.

Two days before the massacre, friends recalled James standing at the rail near Clockers’ Corner for the workout of his horse, Return of the King.

The three were among nine family members killed by Bruce Pardo, 45, of Montrose, a disgruntled former in-law.

On Christmas Eve, Pardo, dressed as Santa Claus, entered the Ortegas' Knollcrest Drive home and shot in the face an eight-year-old girl who was greeting him at the front door.

He then shot and killed several other family members execution-style before taking out a homemade flamethrower and torching the home. Pardo himself was injured when the flamethrower exploded. Rather than follow through on an elaborate escape plan, the killer shot himself to death at his brother's home in Sylmar.

Bernstein recalled the Ortega men as passionate about their horses and generous to those who helped them. "They were very friendly, tight-knit and supportive," Bernstein said. "We were good friends They bred horses and were fans of the game."

Silverstein recalled how Pedroza missed an opportunity to ride for the Ortegas because he was sick. His replacement won the race, but the family put Pedroza back in the family's turquoise silks for the horse's next race. "They were fair and nice people," Silverstein said. "And, they were great owners considering they had such a small stable."

Jerry Espinoza, who once lived next door to Charles, said his former neighbor always had good tips and loved to hang out at the track with friends and family. "If there was something good going on," Espinoza said. "He would let me know."

Like Bernstein and Silverstein, Espinoza noted that horse racing was in the Ortega family blood.

"They did everything together," he said. "It was a family affair." Bernstein agreed. "There'd be 15 or 20 of the family members out here cheering them on--the kids and everybody came out," the trainer said. "Everything they did was like that. They were the friendliest people I'd ever known in my life. Such positive thinkers."



FINISH LINES: Dense fog throughout the morning limited recorded workouts on Pro-Ride Friday to 27, seven on the training track . . . Bobby Frankel clarified that he will train Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Stardom Bound during her campaign at Santa Anita, while Rick Dutrow will take over when the filly moves to the East Coast . . . The Sir Beaufort Stakes retained its Grade III status despite being moved from turf to Pro-Ride due to weather conditions on Dec. 26. “Two Grade II winners and two Grade III winners remained in the race,” explained Mike Harlow, Santa Anita’s director of racing and a member of the graded stakes committee, which consists of breeders and racing officials. “We felt the quality of the race remained in tact.” Gio Ponti won the race for trainer Christophe Clement under Garrett Gomez . . . Jay Robbins said Johnny Eves came out of the El Conejo Handicap in relatively good shape despite being eased in the four-horse race won for the second straight time by In Summation yesterday. “He was sound when we went over him this morning, but he bled slightly,” Robbins said of the 2007 Malibu Stakes winner. “He hit the inside sesamoid on his right ankle and sliced it, but I’ve seen him do that kind of stuff before when he gets in a pressure situation. He won’t miss any (training) time.”

. . . Bob Black Jack, winner of the 2008 Malibu, is doing well since his front-running victory on opening day and could pass the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai on March 28 after his immediate goal, the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita on Jan. 24. “He’s back to the track and everything’s good,” trainer Jim Kasparoff said. “He’ll probably have a work in four or five days. We’re looking at running in the Sunshine Millions Sprint. That’s the plan for right now. I don’t know if we’re going to go in the Dubai race. We’ll keep it simple and take it one at a time.” . . . She’s Cheeky, unbeaten in three starts, is set to tackle Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ventura in the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap at seven furlongs on Jan. 31. “I’m trying to find a spot where I can get some (black) type on her, but that might not be the right spot,” said trainer Peter Eurton. “Maybe we’ll get it for finishing second, because we’re figuring on a short field.”