08/20/2008 11:00PM

Gomez sore but ready to roll


DEL MAR, Calif. - At about half past four on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the start of the sixth race at Del Mar, North America's leading jockey found himself tumbling along a patch of hot Polytrack at the mouth of the six-furlong chute after his mount, Bella Dancer, decided to make an unscheduled left-hand turn.

It hurt, although it did not hurt bad enough to keep Gomez from getting back on a horse in the very next race to win the $80,000 Harry F. Brubaker Handicap aboard Hyperbaric for trainer Julio Canani and Prestonwood Farm. Nor did the crash prevent a predictably stiff and sore Gomez from showing up the next morning at the Kathy Walsh barn to work Georgie Boy, the major stakes winner nearing a comeback from a muscle injury.

"It wasn't like I was jacking her away from there, or popping her on the shoulder with my stick," Gomez said late Thursday morning. "She was almost at top speed, and I was just getting my weight transferred over her withers. She just made a left. I thought, 'Whoa, where'd that come from?' "

Gomez and Bella Dancer broke from the 2-hole, which put them in the line of fire with Lucky Mite and Brice Blanc to their inside.

"Yeah, it was close," Gomez said. "I saw his feet."

Close enough. As for the experience of landing hard on a synthetic racetrack, Gomez tried to be diplomatic.

"I've got nothing but good things to say about Polytrack . . . until I hit it," Gomez said. "That stuff is like hitting glue, or gum. You don't roll. You stick. The good thing is that there's enough of a cushion to take a little bit of the concussion. On regular dirt, you'll roll more, and that helps. But it can be a whole lot harder if you get to the bottom. On dirt, I probably would have broken my shoulder. Yesterday, it rang my bell pretty good, so I just laid there for a minute to make sure I was all right."

Then he went back to work.

"One of the main reasons I rode after going down was that I wanted to keep my muscles moving," Gomez explained. "That way I wouldn't stiffen up too bad, so I wouldn't be too sore today and maybe have to take off."

Any loss of time in the saddle would have been expensive. On paper, Gomez can look forward to the kind of weekend most riders only read about. Saturday he will be at Saratoga to join Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John for what everyone seems to agree is a million-dollar Travers Stakes that almost anyone can win.

Then, back in California on Sunday, Gomez will be riding champion sprinter Midnight Lute as he returns in the $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap, ace turf horse Whatsthescript in the $400,000 Del Mar Mile, and then morning-line favorite Go Between in the $1 million Pacific Classic.

"Colonel John's been working real good since his last race," Gomez said, referring to a third-place comeback in the Swaps at Hollywood Park. "He's the kind of horse I can put anywhere in the race, and that's a big asset."

The massive Midnight Lute has not run since November of 2007.

"He covers so much ground, he's unbelievable," Gomez said. "He's always handled the Polytrack, and he's been working lights out over it lately. Any horse who could handle that soup pile at Monmouth in the Breeders' Cup last year shouldn't have trouble handling anything."

Gomez will be riding American Handicap winner Whatsthescript for the first time.

"I'm excited about riding him," he said. "I had a chance to work him last weekend, and he's a very nice, professional little horse. Go Between, I know should run his race. He's never run a bad one for me on a synthetic track. There was no speed when he was second [to Mast Track] in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and he was really the only one closing on him. If he can just bring a race like he's run the last few times, he'll be tough."

A reasonable return on such a lineup figures to pad the $13.6 million in purses accumulated by Gomez through Wednesday's racing. After winning the national championship and his first Eclipse Award in 2007, Gomez had maintained his reign at the top this season the old-fashioned, Jerry Bailey way, by winning rich stakes often and anywhere they have been offered, with star mares Hystericalady and Black Mamba leading the way.

In the meantime, other riders have stolen the spotlight. Kent Desormeaux dominated the headlines through the Triple Crown. Rafael Bejarano won titles at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park and big races with Heatseeker and Ginger Punch. Edgar Prado added to a typically solid year with his election to the Hall of Fame. They all trail Gomez.

It should be remembered, too, that in Wednesday's sixth Gomez risked life and limb (along with the other seven guys in the race) for a shot at a share of a $30,000 purse and a $55 mount fee. For his trouble, Gomez got the fifty-five.

"My neck's a little stiff," Gomez said, "but I can't complain."