04/06/2010 11:00PM

Difficult staying out of the rough

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Since this is the week of the Masters, and the return of Tiger Woods, references to the process of rehabilitation will be filling the air. For a road map, I went to a reliable expert on the subject.

Garrett Gomez enjoys a good round of golf. He will be tuned in this week, between mounts at Santa Anita, watching the action from Augusta. Gomez also will be appreciating the pressure under which Woods is performing in his first tournament since the colorful abundance of his extramarital activities was revealed in a frenzied wave of tabloid glee.

By comparison, in terms of widespread impact, the transgressions of Gomez were but a tempest in the teacup of horse racing. They did, however, involved drugs and a shattered family, and at one point crossed over into desperate illegalities and incarceration. Once on the rise as a star of the future, Gomez bottomed out and was gone from the game for nearly two solid years, before taking the baby steps of a professional comeback in the fall of 2004.

Two seasons later, Gomez stood at the top of his profession, the national champion in purse earnings. And there he has remained, joining Bill Shoemaker, Braulio Baeza, Laffit Pincay and Jose Santos as the only jockeys to win four or more consecutive titles.

Gomez had one of those days last Saturday, winning three races, including two stakes, but losing the big one in a swirl of trouble and strife when his marquee mount, Lookin At Lucky, finished a disappointing third in the Santa Anita Derby. After the race, Gomez went after fellow rider Victor Espinoza, and then was roundly criticized for his ride by Lookin At Lucky's trainer, Bob Baffert.

Gomez was last seen Saturday evening at the Baffert barn, mending fences. This figured, because it would not have been like Gomez to let anything stew for long. The following day, Baffert announced that Gomez would be riding Lookin At Lucky in the Kentucky Derby, just as planned.

Gomez is at the point where such tumult can come and go without lasting damage, but it wasn't easy getting there, and it takes work to stay. He foresees similar challenges for Woods.

"What he did was more personal than anything that had to do with his career," Gomez said. "But being so personal, and with all the press that he gets, all the press conferences, how he's had to hide, and all the stories he's had to come up with, how he's gone to rehab - that's what's going to mess with him more than anything."

Gomez didn't hide. He was in jail. Then in rehab, and everybody knew.

"They taught me in rehab that nobody can help you if you don't put it out there," he said. "There will always be someone who can help you fix what you want them to fix, but only if you're open and free about what's put you there in the first place. I see people all the time holding back stuff, and relapsing because they're leaving out what they don't want people to know. I've tried hard not to do that.

"Even my wife gets mad at me," Gomez added. "I mean, there's certain things that can only be between us. But if I'm having a problem in my relationship with her, I'm gonna tell my buddies. It's like a revolving circle. People talk about it, and it ends up getting worked out."

This sounds great on paper. But it is not as simple as it sounds.

"Especially for me," Gomez said. "I lived for years denying things. Even now, I'm not the kind of person who wants to be real sociable, or share my private life. But I know for a fact, and learned it the hard way, that if you don't ask for help and really mean it, you've got no shot."

Forsythe played his part in racing

His voice was weak, when I called John Forsythe a few weeks ago, but it was still that rich and lilting golden baritone, an instrument he put to good use over a career of more than 60 years on stages and screens of all shapes and size. It was racing's good fortune that some of his time was spent enjoying the game, racing a few good horses, being part of a weekly racing broadcast, and hosting the Eclipse Awards through the 1970s and well into the 1980s, free of charge.

Beyond his television identity as the Bachelor Father and Blake Carrington - as well as Charlie's voice on the Angels' phone in both movies and television - Forsythe performed key roles in a collection of memorable feature films, including "In Cold Blood," ". . . And Justice for All," "The Happy Ending" and "Scrooged," along with a pair of Hitchcock thrillers, "Topaz" and "The Trouble With Harry." And for all you cult-film nuts out there, need I remind you of Forsythe's work alongside Ann-Margret in "Kitten With a Whip"? No, I needn't.

We talked about nothing in particular. He was more interested in my family and racing news than dwelling on his health. John was a class act who recognized his good fortune and behaved accordingly. Our good-bye was an ordinary good-bye, and when he died last week, at 92, he was there at his farm in Santa Ynez, with the necessary horses grazing right outside.

"I'm a most lucky fellow, having, as an actor with not the most soaring talents, achieved what I have," Forsythe told me, at the height of his "Dynasty" fame. "So I work in the community an awful lot. I can't bear the thought of being out of the mainstream, of not contributing. And I feel the same way about racing. It's been so good to me - and I'm not talking about a monetary standpoint - that I'd like to help keep it alive in any way I can."

He did more than his share.