08/02/2012 11:49AM

Q&A: Garrett Gomez on his hot start at Del Mar

Barbara D. Livingston

A two-time winner of the Eclipse Award as champion jockey, he suffered a severely fractured heel earlier this year at Santa Anita, but has returned with a vengeance this summer at Del Mar, where after the first two weeks of the meet he was tied with Rafael Bejarano atop the jockeys’ standings with 16 victories. He was interviewed in the jockeys’ room at Del Mar last Saturday, July 28.

Birthdate: Jan. 1, 1972, in Tucson, Ariz.

Family: wife, Pam; sons Collin, Jared; daughters Shelby, Amanda

Did you expect to get off to this hot a start at Del Mar? Not like it started off, by no means. You want to have a good meet. We – me and my agent, Tony Matos – want to get everyone focused on us a little bit more. Since I broke my heel, I think people were hesitant to use me. I’ve felt 100 percent, but people see what they want to see, and it doesn’t matter unless they think you are 100 percent. People wanted to see me perform for a while, and when they decided I was 100 percent, I was 100 percent.

But did you feel 100 percent when you first came back? I needed to do it, be riding. When I first came back, I wasn’t ready, which is why I took an extra couple of weeks. Every time I rode I felt better and better. My ankle still swells up after riding, but by the time I get home I’m fine.

It still swells up? It’s just from all the metal in my foot. I’ve got ligaments and tendons and muscle on top of metal, so when you use it all day – riding eight a day, working a couple in the morning – there is some swelling. But it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t bother me at all.

Will you eventually have the metal removed? Not unless it bothers me and they need to take it out, but hopefully that won’t happen.

Since you’ve gotten off to such a great start, are you and Tony going to focus on being the leading rider here? You’re always focused on trying to achieve something. At the start of the meet, we just wanted to make sure we rode a bunch of winners, and we’ve been accomplishing that. I plan on having a good meet. Tony’s having fun, and I’m pointing him in the right direction. I think we all want to be leading rider. It makes the day a lot more fun when you’re winning.

That said, are you going to ride more races to accomplish that goal, or pick your spots? I’ve been riding quite a few. I rode eight last weekend (July 21-22) both days, seven this past Wednesday, six on Thursday, six more on Friday, seven today. I’m riding quite a few.

With Joel Rosario gone to New York, has that opened opportunities for you? A guy like that took up a lot of business, and so any time a guy like that leaves, it opens up a lot of business for people, including myself.

Do you think about what kind of year you’d be having if you hadn’t been injured? I don’t. The Eclipse Awards are decided from January to mid-December, and I missed two months, so there’s not much I can do about it. I’m happy to be home. I want to get people to understand that this is where I want to be and that I’m staying. Everybody in the past was worried that I was leaving, and I did for a time, chasing Eclipse Awards. It would be nice to win an Eclipse Award, but it takes a lot of travel, and I want to be home more.

How important is family to you? Family is number one. They’ve made everything possible. My family made a lot of sacrifices. They let me go off and do those things, let me accomplish what I did, but now I want to be a part of their lives more. I’ve done that. I need to be home and supportive of what they want. Not only that, but life is good in California. You look up at the TV and see Saratoga, and it’s mud and rain, and you sit here in California and it’s 75 degrees and you can look at the beach. Jared and Amanda, my two kids with Pam, are 11 and 9 now. My oldest son, Collin, who’s 19, is living with us, too.

It sounds like you’re not going to travel much for work: Not a whole lot. They’re giving away quite a bit of money here. It’s hard to get away unless it’s a really important race. But those doors are open – the Derby, Keeneland spring, things like that.

What do you and your family do for fun during Del Mar? I play golf all the time. I like getting away from work when I’m not at work, taking my mind off things. I love what I do, but you need a break. My kids are really into horses, and so is my wife. On off days, they go play with their horses, I go play golf, and then we get together at night for dinner at home or we go out to a restaurant or take a walk along the beach. You work twice as hard, and you play twice as hard, when you’re down here.