04/24/2006 12:00AM

Gomez to fill void for Pletcher


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Todd Pletcher decided that filling the big shoes of John Velazquez was going to require a lot of patchwork. So Pletcher went outside the proverbial box, and the result was a major move atop the North American riding colony.

Garrett Gomez, who leads all jockeys in earnings this year with more than $5.6 million, has agreed to leave Southern California to ride first-call for Pletcher, pending the return of Velazquez, who was injured Thursday in a spill at Keeneland in Lexington. Gomez is represented by Ron Anderson, who during the last decade has worked for Chris Antley, Gary Stevens, and Jerry Bailey when those jockeys were at the top of the riding profession.

"I called Ron and asked what he thought, and he said it would work," said Pletcher, whose powerhouse stable has earned more than $44 million since January 2004. "I mean, it's impossible to replace a John Velazquez, but it's a situation where he can come in and pick up quite a bit of business right away. As it was, I was going to have to take calls every day from three or four different guys, like Chris DeCarlo and Mike Luzzi, trying to figure out who was doing what. Those other guys will still get to ride for us, but this way makes it easier on me."

Starting Wednesday, Gomez will ride the final three days of the Keeneland spring meet, then at Lone Star on Saturday and Santa Anita on Sunday. After riding at Churchill Downs through May 6, when he will ride Bob and John for trainer Bob Baffert in the Kentucky Derby, Gomez will ride indefinitely at Belmont Park, where, despite being based in California, he won a handful of major races last fall, including two Breeders' Cup events.

Top jockeys have been known to move their tack cross-country from one major racing circuit to another, but this latest move by Gomez, 34, was somewhat unusual in that it was done "relatively spur-of-the-moment," said Anderson.

"Obviously there was the issue of timing, although we're like everybody else in wishing Johnny a speedy recovery. In the meantime, we'll try to do some good," Anderson said.

Velazquez heads home

Velazquez and his wife, Leona, departed Louisville, Ky., by limousine at about 8 a.m. Eastern on Monday for the long ride back to their home in West Hempstead, N.Y. The trip was expected to take about 12 hours, said Velazquez's agent, Angel Cordero Jr.

Velazquez had not received clearance to return to New York by plane because of a medical condition concerning his lung, said Cordero. The two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey suffered a fractured right shoulder blade and a fracture in a rib on his left side in the spill. He was released Friday from a Lexington hospital.

"He's been pretty uncomfortable," said Cordero. "He hasn't been able to take pain medication because it's been making him sick. He's hurting right now."

Cordero said doctors have estimated that Velazquez will be unable to ride "for a month and a half, maybe two. We're hoping to start riding right before we go to Saratoga" in late July.

Cordero, who works as an exercise rider for Pletcher, said he will not work as an agent for another jockey during Velazquez's absence. "I feel like a carpenter without a hammer," he joked.

Asmussen 2-year-olds stealing the show

While preparing to run Private Vow and Storm Treasure in the Derby, trainer Steve Asmussen has done something phenomenal at the Keeneland meet by winning with 2-year-old after 2-year-old. After Sentry ran off to a 6 1/2-length romp Sunday for Asmussen and jockey Robby Albarado, the trainer had won six of the eight "baby" races run at the meet.

"That's pretty good, isn't it?" a beaming Asmussen said early Monday at Churchill after Private Vow and Storm Treasure had their penultimate pre-Derby works. "The silly part is, I don't even think I'm empty."

More Oaks candidates than gate spots

Churchill may have to invoke an earnings restriction for the May 5 Kentucky Oaks. As of Monday, 17 fillies are being pointed to the Grade 1, $500,000 race, and only 14 can start.

As it stood Monday, the fillies who would be excluded are Last Romance, Ermine, and Red Cherries Spin. In order, those with preference are: Balance, Diplomat Lady, Bushfire, Miraculous Miss, Wait a While, Ex Caelis, Wonder Lady Anne L, Top Notch Lady, Ready to Please, Miss Norman, Itty Bitty Pretty, Quiet Kim, Lemons Forever, and Press Camp.

Eligibility is determined by multi-tiered criteria: graded stakes earnings, then non-graded stakes earnings, then by lot.

Ultimate Goal ready for stakes

Pletcher said Ultimate Goal ran well enough in winning an entry-level allowance route Saturday at Keeneland "that we'll probably look for a stakes for him next time, maybe the Northern Dancer" on June 17 at Churchill.

Ultimate Goal, owned by WinStar Farm, is by Storm Cat out of the Grade 1-winning mare Sister Act. The 3-year-old colt now has won two straight races after losing his debut.

As for two of his better older horses training at Churchill, Pletcher said Harlington, winner of the Gulfstream Park Handicap in his last start, is on target for the May 13 Pimlico Special, while he still is undecided on a comeback spot for Flower Alley, one of the top 3-year-olds of last year.

"I need to work a little more with him," Pletcher said.

Del Mar Show reaches $1 million

By winning a classified allowance on the Keeneland turf Saturday, Del Mar Show became the latest millionaire trained by D. Wayne Lukas. A 9-year-old horse by Theatrical, Del Mar Show now has accumulated earnings of $1,032,400 in 47 career starts.

"If longevity counts for anything, he's right there," said Lukas.

Del Mar Show was bred and is owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust. He was trained through the fall of 2004 by Bill Mott, for whom he got 11 of his 13 career wins, before being turned over to Lukas.

* Aunt Henny, one of the likely favorites for the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland on Sunday, was scratched because of a foot bruise, said trainer Michael Matz. Lady of Venice won in a field of five 3-year-old fillies.