08/21/2002 12:00AM

Gomez has shot at Pacific three-peat


DEL MAR, Calif. - Garrett Gomez has a streak to protect when he rides Momentum in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

In the last two years, Gomez made winning the Pacific Classic look easy, guiding the front-runner Skimming to wins in 2000 and 2001.

With Momentum, Gomez has found a logical contender for a third consecutive win in a race expected to have a 14-runner field led by Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem.

Gomez's opinion of his mount strengthened on Wednesday when Momentum worked three furlongs in 35.40 seconds.

"I don't think I could pick a better horse to be on," Gomez said. "When I worked him, my eyes lit up." Gomez, 30, could use an inspiration this summer. Aside from losing a heartbreaker aboard Momentum in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 14, he suffered a setback when he was removed from Golden Apples two weeks before she won the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park last weekend.

"After it happened, I thought, 'I've got to find another one,' " he said. "I didn't do anything wrong. We went by to check on her and they told us they were making a change. You're self-employed and only part of the team until told otherwise."

A win by Momentum on Sunday would change Gomez's luck, and put both colt and rider closer to a start in the World Thoroughbred Championships at Arlington Park in October.

Trained by Craig Dollase for Paul Reddam, Momentum lost the Gold Cup by a nose after a stretch-long duel with Sky Jack. For even the most casual observers, it was a thrilling finish after Momentum engaged Sky Jack on the final turn.

"I was disappointed for him to run as hard as he did and get beat like he did," Gomez said. "Neither of them were losers. I'd rather get beat two lengths."

In the Gold Cup, Gomez wanted to move earlier on Momentum, but feared that if he did Milwaukee Brew would catch them all in the stretch. In the end, Milwaukee Brew was left with too much to do and finished third, leaving the Gold Cup to Sky Jack and Momentum.

"Sky Jack is an old warhorse," Gomez said. "He caught a glimpse of my horse and fought. I thought if I moved next to him, I could get by him, but he fought back. It was a heartbreaker and I was on the losing side."

There were only six runners in the Gold Cup, but 14 were probable for the Pacific Classic as of Wednesday.

Aside from War Emblem and Momentum, the probables are: Arbiter, Bonus Pack, Bosque Redondo, Came Home, Grey Memo, Jimmy Z, Milwaukee Brew, Pleasantly Perfect, Seinne, Sky Jack, Speedy Pick, and Tapatio.

"It sure looks like there will be plenty of pace," trainer Craig Dollase said. "Sky Jack kind of got an easy lead last time."

War Emblem will go favored, but trainer Bob Baffert was still hedging his opinion about the top 3-year-old's participation following a fast workout of five furlongs in 57.40 seconds on Tuesday. "If it looks like he's a little knocked out, we won't go," Baffert said.

Either way, Gomez will have to use different tactics than in past years.

Skimming raced on the front and won the 2001 Pacific Classic by a convincing 5 1/2 lengths. Overall, Gomez won four stakes at Del Mar on Skimming, including consecutive runnings of the San Diego Handicap.

"The little horse made it a pleasure," Gomez said of Skimming. "He looked like a sprinter. For him to get a mile and a quarter was a pleasant surprise. When someone got to him, he'd take off again."

Like Skimming, Momentum is by Nureyev, but there are few other similarities. Momentum can lead or be rated, Gomez said.

"I think it helps he's not as one-dimensional," Gomez said. "You can position him on the lead, a length off, or five lengths off. It matters what kind of pressure you get."

The options could give Gomez a record third consecutive win and a focus for the Breeders' Cup.

"To have a horse come along like this has been a pleasure," Gomez said. "A horse like him is the reason we're in the business. This is what we get up for."

Field size will be a record

If 14 start, it will be the largest field in the

12-year history of the Pacific Classic. The record is nine starters, in 1994 and 1998.

Trainer Ron McAnally, who has never won the race, will have three longshots - Jimmy Z, Seinne, and Tapatio.

Jimmy Z finished second in an optional claimer here on Aug. 4, losing to Pleasantly Perfect. Wednesday, Jimmy Z worked five furlongs in 1:00.80. The 5-year-old Jimmy Z has never won a stakes in 22 starts, but was third in the 2001 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita.

Seinne has not started since finishing third in the Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 5 and is making his first start on the main track since finishing ninth in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 2.

Tapatio is winless in four starts on turf in the U.S., but won the 2000 Argentina Derby on dirt over about 1 9/16 miles.

Few entries for weekend's other two stakes

While entries for the Pacific Classic will be strong, two other graded stakes will have short fields.

There are only five probables for Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and four probables for Sunday's $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for fillies and mares over

6 1/2 furlongs.

The Oaks, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, is led by Megahertz and Dublino, the first two finishers in the American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 6. In the American Oaks, Dublino finished first, but was demoted to second for causing interference to Megahertz in the stretch. Megahertz is unbeaten in five stakes and has earned $540,180 this year for owner Michael Bello and trainer Bobby Frankel.

Megahertz and Dublino will face Alozaina, Arabic Song and Fair Bianca.

In the Rancho Bernardo, Kalookan Queen, Go Go, and Warren's Whistle, the first three finishers last year, will be joined by the longshot Fancee Bargain.