06/07/2010 12:00AM

2010 has taken Gomez for a ride


One would think by now that Garrett Gomez would have had his fill of the 2010 Triple Crown. What should have been a trip on the Good Ship Lollipop quickly turned into a voyage of the damned, about two steps out of the Churchill Downs starting gate, and never got any better.

"And you know, I was really looking forward to the Triple Crown this year," Gomez said.

He had a right. Gomez began this year's journey aboard the reigning divisional champion and Kentucky Derby favorite Lookin At Lucky, and then was unceremoniously fired after the colt could not overcome the bad luck attached to the No. 1 post in a 20-horse field. They finished sixth in a noble try.

For a Preakness consolation, Gomez ended up on Dublin, last year's Hopeful winner, who drew the outside post of 12. As a result, Gomez will forever be associated with the horse who, according to the official Equibase chart, "bore out at the break and then steadied to avoid the outrider," which doesn't happen every day. After that, they were game enough to finish only four lengths behind the winner, Lookin At Lucky.

Right now Gomez is headquartered at Monmouth Park, but on Saturday the four-time national champion will be where he belongs, at Belmont Park. Gomez will be riding seven on the card, including all six stakes, topped off by the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles, although even the hippest fans might look twice or more before recognizing the horse Gomez rides in the big one.

Spangled Star has a maiden win in eight starts and comes off an unthreatening third in the April 24 Withers Stakes. He is trained by Rick Dutrow.

"He's got his work cut out for him," Gomez said Thursday morning as he prepared for the work day at Monmouth. "But you always have to take the connections into consideration. Dutrow's dangerous any time, and you never know what's going to happen going a mile and a half. Belmont is such a different surface than most of them run on all year. It's a deep, sandy track, and the pace of the race isn't what a lot of them are used to. The whole environment is different, which is why you sometimes see horses who aren't supposed to run any good run really good."

While it's hard to offer a case for Spangled Star to make much of a dent in the Belmont, there is a rich tradition of ripe longshots hitting the board in the third and longest leg of the Triple Crown.

Recent winners such as Da' Tara (38-1), Birdstone (36-1), Sarava (70-1), and Lemon Drop Kid (29-1) present a tempting trend, although historically, the Belmont has been relatively formful on the winning end. Going back through the decades, Temperence Hill (53-1), Pass Catcher (34-1), and Sherluck (65-1) were stunning exceptions to the rule.

Exacta betting has been available on the Belmont since 1984, spectacularly so that year for handicapping guru Andy Beyer and his acolytes, who cashed with 26-1 Pine Circle in the two-hole behind the victorious Swale. Two years later, the triple, or trifecta, came along to spice up the Belmont betting and make momentary heroes out of third-place finishers Le Voyageur (29-1), Baron de Vaux (68-1), Wild Gale (51-1), Thomas Jo (28-1), Royal Assault (27-1), and Anak Nakal (34-1).

Uptowncharlybrown will not be a longshot Saturday. But if he should win, throw another shovel full of dirt on the Gomez Triple Crown. In his most recent race, the Lexington Stakes on April 17, the colt finished third with Gomez aboard. Following the death of trainer Alan Seewald and the interim care of assistant trainer Linda White, Uptowncharlybrown is in the hands of Kiaran McLaughlin and will be ridden in the Belmont by Rajiv Maragh. That didn't stop Gomez from touting.

"He's really live, and he's the right kind of horse for the Belmont," Gomez said. "He's an olden-days kind of horse. A big, strong bull, plow-pulling kind of horse, ideal for the mile and a half."

Of course, way back in April, Gomez thought he had the right kind of horse for the long haul, which made it very hard to watch Lookin At Lucky win the Preakness under his replacement, Martin Garcia.

"Things like that happen all the time," Gomez said. "This time it just happened to be in a Triple Crown race. But when things aren't going good, the jock's usually the first to go. I've been fortunate, though. Most of the time I'm on the other end of that kind of luck."

His immediate reaction to the Preakness result was a resigned, "Aw, ----." But then, he also figured he was lucky to have escaped the race unscathed after Dublin's wacky start.

"He pretty much bolted after the break and was almost in a jog, looking for a spot to leave the racetrack," Gomez said. "The outrider was looking at me, and I could see his face. He turned his pony sideways just in time so I could get by him, but before that I was thinking, 'Uh-oh, I might get him.' Then I realized I wasn't going real fast, so it might not hurt either one of us."

Compared to the rest of the month, Gomez got off light. He is grateful June has arrived. The Derby was May 1 and best forgotten, along with the Preakness on May 15. On May 22, opening day of the highly anticipated Monmouth meet, Gomez fell midway through the card and had to miss the ride on victorious Get Stormy in the featured Elkwood Stakes. He ended the month last Monday with another fall in the 11th race on Monmouth's Memorial Day program, from the mare Manhattan Beach.

"She stumbled hard out of the gate," Gomez said, "and if she'd stumbled another stride I would have gone over the top. As it was, I blew one of my irons when she knocked me back in the saddle. Then I did a 360 and was actually laying on top of her, facing backwards for about two jumps. I kept thinking, 'Will you let me get off, please!'"

He wasn't, but he might as well have been talking about the 2010 Triple Crown.