02/12/2007 12:00AM

Sooner or later, Gomez is going east


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Garrett Gomez has won 11 stakes in the first seven weeks of the Santa Anita meeting and is only nine shy of breaking the record for most stakes wins in a winter-spring meet.

But it is unclear whether Gomez will stick around long enough to establish a new mark.

Gomez is expected to leave California in early April, before the end of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on April 22, to ride for trainer Todd Pletcher at the lucrative Keeneland meeting. The timing of his departure has not been decided, according to the jockey and his agent, Ron Anderson, pending conversations with Pletcher in coming weeks.

"Todd has a powerful outfit and he gives us a lot of opportunities," Gomez said last Saturday.

Last year, Gomez began an association with Pletcher after jockey John Velazquez was injured in a spill at Keeneland in April. Gomez rode at Keeneland and in New York for Pletcher during the spring and summer and has maintained a close relationship with that stable.

Even if Gomez does leave in early April, the Santa Anita stakes record may already be his. On the first two weekends of February, Gomez scored four stakes wins, all in graded stakes.

Gomez is in pursuit of the record of 19 stakes wins shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. (1982-83) and Corey Nakatani (1996-97).

His success at the Santa Anita meeting has left him at the top of the nation's standings for earnings by a jockey. Through Sunday, Gomez's mounts had earned $2,563,179, well clear of runner-up Robby Albarado, with $1,769,607. Last year, Gomez led the nation's jockeys in that category with $21.9 million.

Gomez has won three stakes for Pletcher at the current meeting. The most impressive winner of that group was Rags to Riches in Saturday's Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Making her stakes debut in the one-mile race, Rags to Riches was favored but had a dreadfully wide trip. Breaking from the outside post in a field of eight, Rags to Riches was five wide on both turns and still rallied to catch pacesetter Baroness Thatcher in the final sixteenth.

The victory has made her a leading contender for the Kentucky Oaks in May.

"It's amazing what she had to overcome," Gomez said. "I was going twice as fast as everyone else but it looked like I wasn't making a run because I was so wide. At the quarter pole, she figured out she had to do more."

Rags to Riches could return in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks at 1o1/16 miles on March 11.

Gomez had three winners on Saturday and one on Sunday. Through Sunday, he led the standings with 49 wins, 12 more than Victor Espinoza.

The record for most wins at a Santa Anita winter-spring meeting is 138, set by Pincay in 1970-71. Pincay finished 68 wins clear of runner-up Jerry Lambert that year.

P. Val needs more time to recover

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela said over the weekend that he would be sidelined for at least another month after doctors advised him last week to avoid strenuous exercise on his knee.

Valenzuela, 44, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in December during a time he was sidelined with fractured ribs caused by a paddock accident at Hollywood Park on Nov. 26.

While the ribs have healed, Valenzuela said his knee has been slow to respond. Valenzuela said that when he has tried to vigorously exercise the knee it often swells and is painful. Valenzuela said that Dr. James Tibone, who has advised several California jockeys, examined his knee last week.

"I won't be doing anything for a month," Valenzuela said. "I'm a little concerned. It swells up and gets quite painful."

Valenzuela said Tibone advised him that at his age healing will take longer. Valenzuela said he is unable to do much more than ride a bicycle for exercise.

Valenzuela is not currently licensed by the California Horse Racing Board. His provisional license expired at the end of December, and he said he has yet to renew the license for 2007. In the past, the terms of the license allow the racing board to drug test Valenzuela at their discretion. The former leading rider has a history of substance abuse problems that have plagued his career.

Major Pleasure avoids wet track

Major Pleasure, the morning-line favorite for Sunday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds, was withdrawn after overnight rain left the track wet-fast.

Trainer Mike Puype said that Major Pleasure will start in coming weeks. Major Pleasure was a sharp-looking winner of a seven-furlong maiden race in his second career start on Jan. 21.

"This race isn't the most important race for what we have planned for this horse," Puype said of the San Vicente. "We talked about it before the weekend. We said if there were any ill conditions that we wouldn't run. This track always gets a little slick when it's been raining."

Sugar Shake takes control of division

Sugar Shake, the winner of two graded stakes for older females this year, has improved at an ideal time.

Sugar Shake, 4, won her first graded stakes in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes last month and scored her first Grade 1 win in last Saturday's Santa Maria Handicap.

Trained by Bobby Frankel for Stronach Stables, Sugar Shake has reached the top of a division that has lacked a leader in recent months following the 2006 retirements of Gradeo1 winners Healthy Addiction, Hollywood Story, and Star Parade.

Frankel considered himself lucky after the Santa Maria. "It could have been tougher," he said of the race. "I've seen tougher Grade 1's."

Sugar Shake was allowed to set a slow pace and pulled clear in the final sixteenth to beat Kentucky shipper Ermine by 1 3/4 lengths. Those two are expected to return in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on March 10, the championship of the meeting for the division. The race will also feature Balance, the winner of Sunday's Grade 2 La Canada Stakes.

Sugar Shake has not won beyond the Santa Maria distance of 1 1/16 miles, but Frankel is not concerned.

"She'll stay a mile and an eighth," Frankel said.