01/02/2009 12:00AM

Gomez just barely misses money mark

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Garrett Gomez had another milestone season in 2008, leading the nation's jockeys in earnings with $23,344,351. Had he won just one more race with a purse of $20,000 or more, Gomez would have toppled Jerry Bailey's 2003 single-season North American earnings record of $23,354,960. He finished the year just $10,609 short of the record.

A touch of bad luck and some travel in December kept Gomez from the record. He was in the Far East for two weeks in December, riding major stakes (which do not count toward the North American totals). On Dec. 27, Gomez was injured in a one-horse spill at Santa Anita that left him sidelined for a day and a half. Some of the mounts he was scheduled to ride during that time won. During his day away from the races, Gomez rested and underwent dental surgery to repair teeth broken in the spill.

Despite missing the record, Gomez had a stellar year, and is poised to defend his Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding jockey of 2008.

"They all mean a lot," he said of the potential Eclipse Award and the earnings title. "It's a year-long process, also. They all kind of go together. We were fortunate [in 2007] we ended up with both."

Gomez had three winners on Wednesday, New Year's Eve, and went into his final mount of the year with a chance at Bailey's record. When Baroness Thatcher could only finish third in the Kalookan Queen Handicap, Gomez had fallen short of the record.

Gomez said that he and his agent, Ron Anderson, began to monitor his progress to the record when Gomez won the $750,000 CashCall Futurity aboard Pioneerof The Nile on Dec. 20.

"If it was meant to be, it was meant to be," Gomez said after the Kalookan Queen. "The fall the other day was unfortunate, but that's part of our world. I look at it this way: It was time to get some new teeth anyway."

Sadler has another good import

In 2008, Black Mamba was trainer John Sadler's top turf female, winning 2 of 8 starts and $472,294.

This year, she may have company in that division from fellow New Zealand import Belmont Cat. Sunday at Santa Anita, Belmont Cat makes her U.S. stakes debut in the $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"This one has trained better than Black Mamba," Sadler said. "She might have a little more pop. Black Mamba is a true stayer, kind of a grinder."

Owned by Doubledown Stable, which also owns Black Mamba, Belmont Cat has already made a favorable impression. She won her U.S. debut in an allowance race over a mile on turf at Hollywood Park on Dec. 6.

Similar to Black Mamba, Belmont Cat may be best suited to long races. She won her final start in New Zealand last May in a listed stakes over about 1 1/4 miles on turf.

"She was really impressive in her last start in New Zealand, so I wanted to go out distance-wise," Sadler said.

Belmont Cat will need more than a win in the San Gorgonio to dethrone Black Mamba in the Sadler stable. Black Mamba won two stakes last year - the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood and the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar. She made her final start of the year in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup against males last month, finishing fourth.

She has been turned out for the last month.

"We'll bring her back in a couple of weeks," Sadler said.

Sadler said the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap on April 18 is a long-term goal for Black Mamba.

Of late, Sadler has had better luck with his New Zealand-bred mares than his New Zealand-bred males. The New Zealand-bred Crossing the Line, who won the Del Mar Mile in August 2007, has not started since that race because of injury. Crossing the Line was turned out in September 2007 when a bone chip was detected in an ankle.

He was expected to return in 2008, but never did and has since been sidelined again.

"Crossing the Line came in and we sent him back out for 90 days," Sadler said.

Serra Song tries to earn stakes shot

Serra Song, who missed most of 2008 because of a throat abscess, seeks his second consecutive win in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Sunday. A win there could result in a stakes appearance later at this meeting, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Owned by B. Wayne Hughes, Serra Song, 5, has won 2 of 5 starts. After finishing second in an allowance race here last April, he was sidelined for eight months.

"He had a big abscess in his throat," Mandella said. "We were hoping that he could come back and run."

Serra Song won his comeback in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park on Dec. 11, setting up his start on Sunday.

Sunday's race has drawn a field of 10. Serra Song must beat Cherokee Artist, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby last May, and Runforthedoe, a Group 1 winner in Brazil last year who is making his U.S. debut.

Cherokee Artist won an allowance race here on Oct. 24, his last start.

"We gave him a couple of easy weeks" after that race, said Alice Clapham, assistant to trainer Graham Motion.

Clapham said Cherokee Artist is best when he races from just off the pace.

"If it all goes to plan, hopefully that will happen," she said. "We've got to get him to settle."

Backbackbackgone will stick to sprints

How's this for a start to the new year? On Wednesday, trainer Peter Miller proposed to his longtime girlfriend Lani Smith. She said yes. Thursday, Miller won the $75,000 Golden Bear Stakes over six furlongs at Golden Gate Fields with Backbackbackgone.

Backbackbackgone won his third stakes in the Golden Bear, all of which have come in sprints. Miller plans to keep the colt in such races, and is pointing Backbackbackgone to the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash for California-breds and Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24.

"The temptation with a nice 3-year-old is to run long," Miller said. "I feel it's prudent to keep him around one turn. There is a lot of money for sprinters."