11/05/2009 12:00AM

Gomez has tough act to follow: his own

Barbara D. Livingston
Garrett Gomez, with a record four Breeders' Cup victories last year, has 12 mounts lined up this year.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Go ahead, Go-Go. Do it again. I dare you.

Last year, over the very same ground and beneath the same blue California skies, Garrett Keith Gomez took the 25th running of the Breeders' Cup by the heels and shook about $3.3 million in change out of its pockets by winning 4 of the 14 races and the Bill Shoemaker Award as the leading jockey of the two-day festival.

Granted, the expanded Breeders' Cup format created opportunity where there was none before, helping Gomez to become the first jockey to win four at one running. Two of his wins came in races that did not even exist before 2007.

But 4 of 14 is a greedy percentage under any circumstances, let alone the heightened realities imposed by the Breeders' Cup. Through the first 24 versions of the event, no rider had ever left town with more than two Cups in tow. And last year, such household names as John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Rafael Bejarano, Victor Espinoza and Ramon Dominguez all were rudely blanked.

Reached Tuesday after the draw for the 2009 fields, Gomez was on his way home to a quiet afternoon and evening. He said he had been keeping himself on a short leash lately, turning down golf dates and laying low, with all efforts pointing toward a suitable encore to his 2008 performance.

"I just want to stay focused on Friday and Saturday," Gomez said as he drove, talking hands-free, of course, in full compliance with California law. "The last thing I want to do is get sick, or distracted, or anything else that would keep me from being a hundred percent."

Gomez conceded that even a single win at the Breeders' Cup is cause for celebration. With his four-pack from '08, he has won eight now, all of them since 2005, when he culminated his resurrection from the depths of drug dependency with victories on Artie Schiller in the Mile and Stevie Wonderboy in the Juvenile at Belmont Park.

Gomez resists the idea that he is any kind of role model for those fighting back from the ravages of substance abuse. He insists that he is still a work in progress, more grateful to family and friends than he can ever express, and that compared with his personal struggle, riding Thoroughbreds for a decent living is basically a breeze that relies to a great extent on the rub of the green.

"You can be looking at nothing but locks on paper, but they still need to out and perform, and you still need a lot of luck," Gomez said.

Gomez has mounts in 12 of the 14 Breeders' Cup races, beginning on Friday with Oak Leaf Stakes runner-up Always a Princess in the Juvenile Fillies. (Gomez is named on both also-eligibles in the earlier Juvenile Fillies Turf.) He comes back with his first ride on Flower Bowl winner Pure Clan in the Filly and Mare Turf, then goes for his second win in the Filly and Mare Sprint with his longtime companion Ventura. In 11 starts, they have been worse than second only once.

Gomez wraps up Friday in the $2 million Ladies Classic with Life Is Sweet, the queen of the winter meet at Santa Anita. Lately, Life Is Sweet has taken a beating in two losses to Zenyatta and a noble but distant third to males in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

"I'm hoping she's finally back to where she was earlier this year," Gomez said. "You never know, though, when they've lost a couple like that."

On Saturday, Gomez rides all eight Breeders' Cup events. In the Juvenile Turf, he will collaborate for the first time with Bourbon Stakes runner-up Codoy. In the Turf Sprint, he rides the 8-year-old Delta Storm from the 14-hole on the hill ("Turning right, that's the rail," Gomez noted, somewhat hopefully.)

Midnight Lute, Garrett's winner of the last two Sprints, has been retired, so Gomez must make do this year with Gayego, winner of the Ancient Title over the course and distance last month, in very Midnight Lutish style.

"That was a real positive race," Gomez said. This one he likes a lot. "He ran just enough to get enough out of it without having to do too much."

Next, Gomez goes for his second straight Juvenile aboard Lookin at Lucky, the unbeaten winner of the Norfolk Stakes and Del Mar Futurity. The rider is not letting Lucky's post 13 faze him a bit.

"He's the kind of colt who can let me get just about any position," Gomez said. "I learned a lot about him in the Futurity at Del Mar, where he broke from the 1-hole. I had to ask him to do a couple things in pretty good traffic that day, and he was there every time."

Go-Go's Saturday continues with the 3-year-old Courageous Cat against defending champ Goldikova in the Mile, and then a reunion with Midshipman in the Dirt Mile.

"Goldikova will have to run her race," Gomez said. "Any slip-up in there and somebody's gonna get you. As for Midshipman, his comeback race was very good. Looks like he's all grown up."

Gomez rides Sword Dancer winner Telling in the $3 million Turf, then dons the WinStar Farm silks for one last dance with Colonel John in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. A handsome, clearly talented son of Tiznow, Colonel John has not been able to put a big win on the board since the 2008 Travers, and Gomez knows Colonel John needs to retire on a high note.

"He's one of those horses who's got an excuse all the time, except in the Travers, and he would have if he hadn't won," Gomez said.

Colonel John goes into the Classic off a neck loss to longshot Gitano Hernando in the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita last month.

"I got to the three-eighths thinking this horse could not get beat that day," Gomez said. "Then he got to struggling with the surface. I'm not saying he doesn't handle it. What we had at that point in the meet was real deep and cuppy, and a lot of horses were having trouble.

"After that we had that little rain, and it seemed to settle the surface in a way that just watering couldn't do," Gomez added. "The last week or so it's been a little tighter, so he shouldn't have that excuse. But if you want to win a race like the Classic, you'd better not go looking for any."



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