12/14/2016 11:31PM

Former jockey Garrett Gomez found dead at 44

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Barbara D. Livingston
Former jockey Garrett Gomez, 44, was found dead Wednesday at a casino hotel in Arizona.

Former jockey Garrett Gomez was found dead Wednesday, according to a family friend, Jeanette Hughes, who spoke to his daughter Shelby.

“I’ve known Garrett since we were kids. I hope he’s at peace,” Hughes said. “Poor kid.”

Gomez was the victim of apparent drug overdose, according to another person with knowledge of the situation. He was found at a casino hotel near Tucson, Ariz.

Gomez, who would have been 45 on Jan. 1, announced his retirement in June 2015 on Facebook, but he had not ridden since 2013.

Gomez had a history of substance-abuse issues, but for much of his career he had held them at bay. He was a two-time Eclipse Award winner and won 3,769 races, including 13 Breeders’ Cup races, the most significant aboard Blame when he sent Zenyatta to her only defeat in the 2010 Classic at Churchill Downs. His mounts earned more than $205 million.

In the summer of 2013, Gomez told Del Mar’s stewards he had sought treatment for alcoholism and had been given a prescription for anti-depressants to aid his recovery. He had ridden sparingly that year, with only a handful of mounts at Hollywood Park. During that Hollywood Park meet, he took time off to address issues he said were related to his marriage, but by two months later he said he was in the process of getting a divorce. He last rode at Keeneland in October 2013.

Garrett K. Gomez

Born: Jan. 1, 1972, Tucson, Ariz.

Died: Dec. 14, 2016

Career record: 

Starts: 21,639

Wins: 3,769 (88th all time)

Earnings: $205,202,055 (14th all time)

·         Won Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 2007 and 2008

·         Led nation in earning four straight years, 2006-2009

·         Won four Breeders’ Cup races in 2008 and three in 2010, including the Classic on Blame over the previously undefeated Zenyatta

·         Won 13 Breeders’ Cup races all time (tied for 3rd)

·         Four-time winner of the Bill Shoemaker award for outstanding performance by a jockey at the Breeders’ Cup

Gomez had lived in Duarte, Calif., just east of Santa Anita, while riding, but had been living in Tucson for the last two years after splitting from his second wife, Pam. According to a person with knowledge of his situation, Gomez had been primarily living in a trailer, but had recently received a check related to a stallion season he owned and had checked into the casino hotel.

Gomez began his career in New Mexico in 1988 and largely rode in the Midwest – at tracks like Oaklawn Park and Arlington Park – before moving to California, where his career rose, fell, and rose again.

He won the Del Mar Debutante and Pacific Classic in the summer of 2000, but had a career setback early that decade owing to substance abuse and even had a stint in jail, missing all of 2003. But he returned in 2004 and by 2005 won major races like the Del Mar Futurity and Jockey Club Gold Cup and that fall won two Breeders’ Cup races, the Juvenile and Mile. He won four races at the 2008 Breeders’ Cup and three more at the 2010 event.

Gomez led the nation’s riders in purse earnings four straight years, from 2006 through 2009, and in 2007 and 2008 was voted the Eclipse Award as champion jockey. He also won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2011.

He is survived by four children, two – a daughter, Shelby, and son, Collin – from his first marriage and two – a daughter, Amanda, and son, Jared – from his second.