05/21/2004 11:00PM

Gomez honors go to Villeneuve

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Francine Villeneuve, the leading female rider in Canadian racing history, is this year's recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.

The Gomez Award is awarded annually to a jockey who is Canadian-born, Canadian-raised, or has ridden regularly in Canada for more than five years.

The award will be presented on Labatt Woodbine Oaks Day, June 13. Avelino Gomez, one of Canada's most famous jockeys, died following a spill in the 1980 Oaks.

Villeneuve, 39, had recorded 781 lifetime victories heading into Saturday's card at Fort Erie, where she is currently based. Heading into the holiday weekend, Villeneuve led the Fort Erie standings.

Now in her 18th year as a jockey, Villeneuve became the first female rider to compete in the Queen's Plate, piloting Wilderness Song to a second-place finish in 1991. She also rode Wilderness Song in that year's Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Villeneuve is the first woman to be honored with the Gomez Award and joins an honor roll that includes Ron Turcotte, John Longden, Sandy Hawley, Don MacBeth, Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, Jim McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, and Robert Landry.