08/06/2009 11:00PM

Gomez aiming for upset


DEL MAR, Calif. - Jockey Garrett Gomez's top horse in 2009 has been the 4-year-old filly Life Is Sweet, the winner of three stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year. She could be the filly that pulls the upset of the summer in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar.

For the second time this year, Life Is Sweet faces undefeated stablemate Zenyatta in a major stakes. Back in May, Zenyatta easily beat Life Is Sweet by 1 3/4 lengths when they were first and second in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Friday morning at Del Mar, Gomez stopped short of predicting a reversal of that result but said he was happy that the race is not being run on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track. Gomez argues that Life Is Sweet performed better on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride synthetic surface and hopes the same applies to Del Mar's Polytrack surface.

"I didn't think she handled Hollywood the same as she did Santa Anita," he said.

Life Is Sweet ran twice at Hollywood Park, later finishing third against males in the Hollywood Gold Cup where she made up considerable ground.

Life Is Sweet would be a huge favorite in the Hirsch Stakes if Zenyatta were not in the field. Gomez is hoping that Life Is Sweet can deliver a strong performance Sunday. He wondered what the outcome of the Milady would have been on a different surface.

"I wouldn't say she would have outrun that filly, but I think she would have made her run," Gomez said.

The winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding rider of 2007 and 2008, Gomez, 37, had one mount on Thursday's all-sprint, eight-race program, winning the second race on Streakin Excess ($9).

Through Thursday, he had 5 wins from 60 mounts at the meet, leaving him in eighth place, 12 wins behind Joel Rosario. That is not what he expected when he moved from New York to California in early June.

Gomez won his first stakes of the Del Mar meeting in the Wickerr Stakes on Colonel John on July 31. He said his results will improve after a rough first couple of weeks at the meeting.

"They weren't getting across it and they weren't running very fast," he said of his mounts. "They're running a little faster. If I was involved [in the pace], they stopped at the half-mile pole. If they weren't involved, they didn't run."

Currin cutting back on his stable

Bill Currin, who has trained the major stakes winners Memorette, Outta Here, and Stormello in recent years, is downsizing his operation as an owner-trainer after a recent stroke, he said Friday.

Currin, 73, said he plans to keep six horses in training and will sell some breeding stock in Kentucky this November.

"I'm keeping the best," he said. "I have to admit it."

Currin said he underwent an operation in early July to alleviate blockage in an artery, but that his condition has improved in recent weeks.

"I feel like coming back and messing with a half a dozen horses," he said. "I'm getting my strength back."

Currin won the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity in 2006 with Stormello, who is a shuttle stallion between Argentina and Kentucky.

Jockeys to use softer whips

The Jockey's Guild announced Thursday that riders competing at Del Mar will begin using whips with softer material on the ends, effective Wednesday. The new whips are part of a house rule implemented by Del Mar after consultations with the Jockey's Guild.

Many riders have already begun using the new whips, which feature a popper, or end of the whip, that is seven or eight inches in length, double the previous length, and made from a material with more padding.

The new whips are described by Jockey's Guild officials as "equine-friendly," reducing the sting of the blow.

"With the new whip, horses seem to react to the sound of the popper rather than from a physical reaction to the whip," Gomez said.

Del Mar has bought 40 of the new whips from four suppliers to provide jockeys who do not already have them.

The house rule comes at a time when several jockeys have been fined for causing welts or breaks in the skin of their mounts during races. Earlier this week, jockeys Victor Espinoza ($300), Christian Santiago Reyes ($500), and Rosario ($1,000) were fined for such infractions. Rosario's penalty was for a third offense.

Scyuan casino offering simulcasting

The Scyuan casino in El Cajon, Calif., reopened a simulcast betting facility on Friday after an absence of four years, according to officials with Southern California Off-Track Wagering.

The Native American casino has remodeled its property after closing the simulcasting area in May 2005.

The new satellite is the second addition to the off-track betting network in Southern California this summer. Last month, the Commerce Casino, near downtown Los Angeles, opened a satellite facility.