12/16/2016 1:50PM

Gomez remembered as life of the jockeys' room

Barbara D. Livingston
Garrett Gomez had not ridden since 2013.

In a free moment Thursday, Los Alamitos steward Luis Jauregui watched a replay of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, in which Blame gave Zenyatta the only loss of her career. Jauregui was not focused as much on the horses as he was on Garrett Gomez, who rode Blame.

“I remember there was a pack in front of him and he was on the rail,” Jauregui recalled. “He rode a perfect race. He pushed out turning for home. He gathered his horse and finished strong.

“He showed great timing. He was the only guy who could say he beat Zenyatta.”

That race and other memories were at the fore of Jauregui’s thoughts Thursday as the racing community dealt with the shocking death of Gomez earlier this week in Arizona at 44. Gomez, who had a history of substance-abuse problems, had not ridden since October 2013. He announced his retirement in 2015, and had stayed away from the racetrack scene.

Jauregui, who rode with Gomez before he became a racing official, remembered Gomez as more than just the former leading rider. He recalled long afternoons spent with Gomez in the jockeys’ rooms at Southern California tracks.

“He was the life of the room that we don’t always have,” Jauregui said. “He was a prankster. He kept us enjoying our day when it can be stressful for jockeys. He seemed to loosen up the room.

“I rode with him for years. Everything gravitated toward him.”

From Jauregui’s perspective, Gomez was a patient rider.

“He never rushed horses out of the gate,” Jauregui said. “He let them find his stride. When he made his move, he was as strong a finisher as they come. If he was on the lead, he was doing it easy.”

In his final year of racing in 2013, Gomez rode such notables as Beholder, the champion 3-year-old filly that season for trainer Richard Mandella. Their relationship was primarily professional, Mandella said on Friday.

“I didn’t know him really well,” Mandella said. “He was a great talent. He could adapt to any situation.”

Because of Gomez’s substance-abuse problems, Mandella questioned Friday whether racing could do more to help riders with such problems, suggesting more random tests to screen for drugs and alcohol.

“They’re under such stress,” Mandella said. “I would suggest that to the industry.”

Gomez won on Clubhouse Ride in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes for trainer Craig Lewis at Hollywood Park in 2013. Lewis said he heard through the backstretch that Gomez had recently discussed a return to riding.

“I’ve been told he was contemplating it,” Lewis said on Friday.

“It’s real sad. He was a gifted rider. He was a nice person. He could win on any kind of horse.”

Gomez rode his final meeting at Del Mar in the summer 2013. His last stakes win in California was aboard Topic in the CTT and TOC Handicap there for trainer Neil Drysdale.

“I found Garrett to be a very talented jockey, but also a competent horseman,” Drysdale said Friday. “I found him to be very professional.”

In his career, Gomez won 3,769 races, including 13 Breeders’ Cup races. He earned the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding jockey in 2007 and 2008.