12/09/2010 12:48PM

Gomez pulled through rough-and-tumble day


The answer to the name of everyone’s favorite Thoroughbred mare comes pretty easily. It’s the one that starts with “Z” and ends with “ahhh.”

Garrett Gomez, on the other hand, can be forgiven if he holds a place close to his heart for the 3-year-old filly Indy Bouquet. It was Indy Bouquet who was fatally injured on the backstretch of the Churchill Downs turf course, on the afternoon of Nov. 4, in the process throwing Gomez onto the drought-hardened ground and immediately threatening his ability to answer the bell for the Breeders’ Cup over the following two days, not to mention ending any chance he might win another national championship.

Gomez has led the purse standings the past four years. But by the time he arrived at the Breeders’ Cup, he was mired in fourth on the 2010 list. Now, thanks to the efforts of Blame and, in a sense, the sacrifice of Indy Bouquet, Gomez finds himself barking at the heels of leader Ramon Dominguez with a good hunk of December left to run and several rich-enough opportunities, beginning on Saturday at Hollywood Park when he rides Glorious Song Stakes runner-up Nina Fever in the $300,000 Starlet.

As Gomez tells it, the only reason his own injuries were not worse than they were was because somehow, in her moment of mortal distress, Indy Bouquet managed to spare her jockey from suffering even greater damage.

“I hit the ground and I slid, not very far, then rolled, and I kind of glanced to see where she was,” Gomez said. “I saw her, and I knew I was away from her, and then – boom! – she was on top of me.”

It is a twisted irony of the sport that the safest place for a rider in a race is on his toes perched over the withers of a Thoroughbred going full speed in traffic. Once the precarious arrangement is broken, and the jockey becomes separated from his partner, all manner of havoc can ensue.

Chris McCarron was going to make it okay the day he went down on the final turn at Santa Anita until Laffit Pincay was launched from his horse in the same tumble and shattered McCarron’s hip with his helmet. And Gary Stevens would have escaped relatively unscathed from a crash on the Del Mar turf except for the fact that he was speared between the eyes by the splintered PVC pipe being used as a temporary rail.

“When she landed on top of me, all kinds of things were going through my head,” Gomez said. “At that point I thought I wasn’t hurt too bad. I knew I was okay” – “okay” in this context meaning there was no paralysis and he could remember both his name and, if pressed, where he parked his car – “when I saw her coming, I let out all my air, and she landed on me. Her stomach was facing me, and her withers were across my legs. I’m saying, ‘Get up, mama, get up, get up, get up.’ And she stood up. Stood up on three legs and never fell. And there I was on the ground right underneath her.”

Those who have witnessed even a healthy horse scrambling to its feet will appreciate the amazement of Gomez. A dead-drunk cowpoke arises with more grace.

“Even getting up in the stall you’ll see them slip and fall,” Gomez said. “But not her. I don’t know why and I didn’t ask. She was up and walked off, and I saw her there, her leg snapped off, and I knew what was going to happen.”

What happened, beyond Indy Bouquet’s demise, was that her last act on this earth was to spare her jockey from more damage than he had already suffered. A month later, recalling the moment in his cubicle at Hollywood Park, Gomez pointed to the tip of his right shoulder and lower edge of his right shoulder blade where he’d sustained hairline fractures. Held against the backdrop of Indy Bouquet’s death, what Gomez went through physically over the ensuing two days was small potatoes. But it was at least of some interest to the assembled sporting press to note that, after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday, Gomez awoke Saturday morning, about 12 hours before the Classic was to be run, to the alarming realization that he could not move his right arm.

“The doctor got me an anti-inflammatory and a non-narcotic painkiller, but I didn’t feel any different,” Gomez said. “I iced it and finally loosened it up, and it felt a little better. But then the horse I rode in the Turf Sprint wasn’t real comfortable with the ground. He’d scramble and bobble, scramble and bobble, and by the time the race was over I had to have help pulling him up and then getting the saddle off.”

At that point, it occurred to Gomez that he was might end up hurting Blame’s chances in the Classic more than helping them.

“The thing that kept me from not taking off was I knew he wasn’t a horse that pulled,” Gomez said. “I knew he’d be on a long rein and give me that long, steady run. The closer the moment came, I started feeling better. Maybe it was the excitement. Adrenaline’s the best.”

Let the record show that Gomez never went to the right-handed stick in the Classic, since he couldn’t anyway, and only used the left sparingly. He admits to his prejudice, but he also insists they could have gone around again and the result would have been the same, as long as his arm held out.

“Zenyatta is awesome, and so great for the game, but she wasn’t going to beat me that day,“ Gomez said. “I just wouldn’t want to give her another chance.”

Like he would if he could for Indy Bouquet.