01/01/2007 1:00AM

Gomez sweeps Santa Anita stakes


ARCADIA, Calif. – Garrett Gomez, who led the nation’s jockeys in purses in 2006, jumped out to the early lead in 2007 on Monday at Santa Anita by winning three races, including a pair of Grade 3 stakes races.

Not a bad way to start the year, or celebrate a birthday.

Gomez turned 35 on Monday, and celebrated with victories by Society Hostess in the $116,100 Monrovia Handicap for female turf sprinters, and by Harvard Avenue in the $110,900 El Conejo Handicap for male dirt sprinters. Both winners produced sensational late runs that carried them from last to first through the stretch.

Society Hostess ($5.60), last of 12 crossing the dirt portion of the hillside turf course, displayed a dazzling closing charge to nail Clinet and win by one length, with Kitty Hawk another length back in third.

Cambiocorsa, who last year was virtually unbeatable on this course, led through fractions of 21.49 seconds for the opening quarter and 43.28 seconds for a half-mile. She kicked clear at the top of the stretch, but faded to seventh in the final sixteenth as the late runners came flying.

Society Hostess was bred and is owned by Walter Haefner’s Moyglare Stud Farm. She is trained by Christophe Clement, and was saddled by his assistant Nicholas Bachalard.

“That was a very good turn of foot,” Bachalard said. “We got the year off to a good start.”

Society Hostess has now won 8 times in 16 starts. She was fifth, beaten just three-quarters of a length, in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 26.

* Harvard Avenue ($13.60) benefited from a torrid early pace and ran down stablemate Areyoutalkintome in the final jump to take the 5 1/2-furlong El Conejo by a nose.

Proud Tower Too, making his first start since capturing the Dubai Golden Shaheen in March, tired after setting the pace and finished third, one length behind Areyoutalkintome.

Proud Tower Too led through the opening quarter in 21.52 seconds, and then pace rival Roi Charmant poked his head in front after a half-mile in 44.05 seconds. Areyoutalkintome seized the lead from a resurgent Proud Tower Too with a sixteenth to go, but then Harvard Avenue came motoring down the center of the track, passing all eight rivals in the stretch.

He completed 5 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:02.68 for his fifth win in 22 starts. Ron Crockett bred and owns Harvard Avenue.

The only person who did not have to sweat out the photo was Doug O’Neill, who trained the winner and the runner-up.