08/21/2005 11:00PM

Victory aboard Borrego 'meant the world' to Gomez

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Borrego was more than 100 yards past the finish of Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar by the time jockey Garrett Gomez finished his triumphant celebration. Borrego had beaten Perfect Drift by a half-length, and at the finish Gomez looked like a furious symphony conductor, waving his whip and gesturing to the crowd. So frenzied were his actions that it looked as if his momentum would pull him out of the saddle.

This was the biggest win of Gomez's season, and he wanted to share it with everyone. The win came 11 months after Gomez resumed riding following an absence of nearly two years caused by cocaine and alcohol dependency.

"That really meant the world to me," Gomez said of Borrego's win. "I couldn't believe the feeling when he came through."

Gomez has won 3 of the 15 runnings of the Pacific Classic, the most by a jockey. Even though he won with Skimming in 2000 and 2001, he quickly admits that Borrego's win ranks at the top of his list.

Earlier this year, Gomez won the riding title at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, but Borrego on Sunday provided him with the major stakes win that he coveted.

"Last year at this time, I was trying to get my license back," Gomez said.

The Pacific Classic was the fifth consecutive race in which Gomez had partnered with Borrego. Gomez earned the mount last winter before a third-place finish at 25-1 in the Santa Anita Handicap in March. He was aboard Borrego for a second-place finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup last month.

"He's a very strong finisher," Beau Greely, Borrego's trainer, said of Gomez. "He's come back strong, and everyone knows he's riding well."

In some stakes, Gomez could have ditched Borrego for other mounts.

"I believed in this horse," Gomez said. "I had a feeling he'd run big today."

For the rest of Del Mar, Gomez, 33, will be trying to win the riding title. Through Sunday, he was second with 32 wins, four fewer than leader Victor Espinoza.

But his main focus, he says, is to remain healthy.

"There were times when I didn't know if I'd get to ride again," Gomez said on Sunday with his wife, Pam, and two small children seated alongside him. "What I've done has made me appreciate everything."