01/01/2010 1:00AM

Gomez wins earnings title in final ride


ARCADIA, Calif. - With an unexpected last chance, jockey Garrett Gomez won Thursday's final race at Santa Anita aboard the maiden claimer Cenizo to claim his fourth consecutive national earnings title.

Gomez began the day with 2009 earnings of $18,533,571 trailing Julien Leparoux by $26,994. With only two scheduled mounts on the eight-race program, Gomez seemed out of chances when Red Arrow finished last in the second race, earning $400, and Fund Raiser won the fourth race, earning $26,400. That left Gomez trailing Leparoux by $194 and out of mounts.

But shortly after 3 p.m., jockey Martin Pedroza took off Cenizo in the eighth race, citing illness. Gomez was named as the replacement rider and made the most of the opportunity, guiding the 4-5 shot between horses in the stretch to win the maiden claiming race over 5 1/2 furlongs by a length. Trained by Julio Canani, Cenizo earned $10,800, giving Gomez 2009 earnings of $18,571,171, which was $10,606 more than Leparoux.

Gomez did not have to win the last race to secure the title. With all starters in California guaranteed $400 as part of a scheme to encourage more runners, Gomez only had to guide Cezino out of the gate to secure the title.

When Cezino hit the finish line, Gomez, who turned 38 on Friday, pumped his right fist four times in celebration. It was the opposite of his thoughts after Red Arrow finished last. At the time, Gomez had given up on winning the title.

"I thought I was cooked," he said. "I didn't think I had any chance. I was hanging around and hope somebody would take off. You never know what could happen."

That is exactly what occurred after the fifth race. According to track stewards, Pedroza said he was ill and asked to be excused from his last mount. "He told me he was taking off," Gomez said of a conversation he had with Pedroza, "and he said Julio said the horse was live."

Gomez, who won the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding jockey for 2007 and 2008, won his first earnings title in 2006 and set a personal earnings best of $23,344,351 in 2008.

Leparoux, who won the 2006 Eclipse Award as the nation's leading apprentice jockey, did not ride after Dec. 3, 2009. He is booked to resume riding after a month-long break at Gulfstream Park on Sunday.

Both jockeys will be after the earnings title in 2010, which Gomez hopes he can retain. Agent Ron Anderson handles Gomez's mounts.

Gomez missed nearly two years of riding, from December 2002 to September 2004, because of substance abuse problems that led to brief time in jail.

As he walked back to the jockey s room after Thursday's last race, Gomez was approached by a husky man. Holding a small child in his arms, the man said he wanted to say hello. "I don t know if you remember me," the man said. "We were in county together five years ago."

Gomez said that such a meeting with someone from his time in jail offers a perspective on how far his career has come.

"It keeps me in reality," Gomez said. "That's who I am. I messed up a good portion of my life. The person I was then is not the person I am today."

* Steve Asmussen set a single-season record for wins by a trainer with 650, and also led the nation's trainers in stable earnings with $21,875,991. Todd Pletcher finished second in the earnings race with $15,454,429, with Bob Baffert third at $9,974,394. Scott Lake finished a distant second in wins with 307.

Russell Baze led the nation's jockeys with 415 wins, 24 more than runner-up Ramon Dominguez.