06/26/2012 1:21PM

Hollywood Park: Jockey colony competing for Rosario's mounts

Benoit & Associates
Jockey Joe Talamo expects to pick up some strong mounts this summer at Del Mar.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Garrett Gomez admits he will miss rival jockey Joel Rosario, who has relocated to New York for the rest of the summer.

“I enjoyed the competition,” he said last weekend. “I wish he wasn’t going, myself.”

But it was not as if Gomez tried to talk Rosario out of the move.

Without Rosario, Gomez, and many of his colleagues in the jockey’s room, will benefit from the absence of such a leading rider.

“It will open up a lot of doors for a lot of riders, myself included,” Gomez said.

Who will benefit the most will play out in coming weeks as the Betfair Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting ends July 15 and the Del Mar meeting starts July 18.

Rafael Bejarano has essentially clinched the title at the current meeting. Through Sunday, Bejarano led all riders with 52 wins, leading runner-up Joe Talamo by 18. Rosario was third with 26, with Martin Garcia (20) and apprentice Eswan Flores (19) rounding out the top five. Gomez was 10th with 14 wins.

Rosario said Sunday that he plans to ride in New York through September, with an expected return to Southern California in time for the start of the Santa Anita fall meeting on Sept. 28. Santa Anita hosts the Breeders’ Cup races on Nov. 2-3.

Over the next few months, riders in Southern California will vie for Rosario’s old mounts, both in everyday races and in stakes, knowing there are many live horses to be found.

“He had a lot of horses tied up,” Gomez said.

Between them, Bejarano, 30, and Rosario, 27, have won every riding title at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita since the 2007 Hollywood Park fall meeting, which was won by Gomez. If Bejarano won a title, Rosario was frequently second, or vice versa. The last time they did not finish 1-2 was the 2011 Del Mar meeting, when Talamo was runner up to Rosario, losing by seven mounts.

This summer at Del Mar, Talamo expects to challenge Bejarano.

“I can beat him,” he said. “I was the leading rider to the last week or two last year. It depends on the horse. It’s 90 percent horse and 10 percent jockey.”

By riding horses with better chances, Talamo, 22, said more wins are likely. Rosario was a jockey who was in that position, he said.

“People are looking to get good mounts,” Talamo said. “It seems like every race he had the first or the second choice. I think it made me a better rider when you’re trying to win on the third or fourth best horse.”

Since Rosario announced his departure June 17, some trainers have been making contingency plans to replace him in their stables. Mario Gutierrez, regular rider of I’ll Have Another, will gain even more chances in trainer Doug O’Neill’s stable.

“I’ll ride him as much as I can,” O’Neill said.

John Sadler, whose stable is among the leaders on the circuit, frequently used Rosario, along with veteran Mike Smith. Sadler said he is taking a wait-and-see approach for replacements.

“We’re accepting applications,” Sadler said. “We’ll spread it around a little bit.”

Gomez, 40, could be a beneficiary. The winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding rider in 2007 and 2008, Gomez was sidelined for more than two months earlier this year after suffering heel and ankle injuries in a fall near the paddock at Santa Anita.

When Gomez won the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on Love theway Youare at Hollywood Park on June 16, it was his first stakes win since Jan. 7.

“I’ve got some horses that are live, and we’ll see if we can get things going,” he said. “I want to get people behind me again.”

That may be easier without Rosario in the jockey’s room, for Gomez and his fellow riders.