A master of timing on the racetrack, Garrett Gomez had everything going for him in life except time.
"I never have time to really take a huge victory in," the jockey wrote in a post-race blog for ESPN.com after the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic. "It's always on to the next step; let's go go, let's go, let's go. The fact that I haven't been able to ride another race since (Blame) beat Zenyatta (in the Classic) gives me a chance to relive that thrill, to let it sink in. I always appreciate my victories, but this is one you want to really enjoy."
No wonder then that he came to be known as "Go Go."
Riding a pair of Arkansas Derby winners at Oaklawn Park in a career cut short by substance abuse, Gomez died late last year, less than a month before his 45th birthday.
A two-time Eclipse Award winner as North America's leading jockey and a four-time earnings champion, Gomez today receives posthumous induction to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He goes in alongside fellow jockeys Javier Castellano and Victor Espinoza and the late steeplechase trainer Tom Voss. Equine honorees include three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova.
Gomez, who briefly attended Lake Hamilton School, began riding at 16 and won his first race in 1988 at New Mexico's Santa Fe Downs. A year later he was the nation's second-leading apprentice.
Though never the track's riding champion, Gomez battled fellow Hall of Famer Pat Day and future honoree Calvin Borel for top honors at Oaklawn. He won back-to-back runnings of the Arkansas Derby with Concern in 1994 and Dazzling Falls in 1995. He also won Del Mar's Pacific Classic a record-tying four times, twice with Skimming (2000 and 2001) and also with Borrego (2005) and Go Between (2008).
Gomez won 3,769 races, 13 in the Breeders' Cup, withstanding a fractured right shoulder to win the 2010 Classic aboard Blame against previously undefeated Zenyatta at Churchill Downs. He won two other races at the 2010 Breeders' Cup and four in the 2008 series. Gomez received the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 2007 and 2008 during a four-year run as the sport's earnings leader.
On the track, at the peak of his powers, Gomez was a flawless jockey, said Ron Anderson, who became his agent after Jerry Bailey's retirement from the saddle in January 2006.
"This guy shows up day after day. You watch him ride. He never makes a mistake," Anderson said on bloodhorse.com. "He's in the right place at the right time; on the lead when he's supposed to be; tucks in when he needs to be. Of all the people I worked with, the craziest run of all might have been the five years I had with him."
But as early as 1995, when he went AWOL days before he was to ride Dazzling Falls in the Ohio Derby, Gomez' off-the-field exploits began to overshadow his raceriding skills. Beset by personal demons, he took frequent absences, only to return in glory. Finally, the struggle became too much and Gomez rode his last race in 2013, two years after he received the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award and received his first Hall of Fame nomination.
Announcing his retirement in 2015, Gomez thanked "everyone in the sport of horse racing for all the support I ever received in my career. I enjoyed every horse I ever rode, and I thank all of them for making my career. I'd like to apologize to all my fans for leaving the sport the way I did. Sometimes you have to do things in life for yourself. ... I had a lot of awesome moments in this game. Best game in the world. Thank you, horse racing."
Gomez was found dead last December at a casino hotel near Tucson, Ariz. He was survived by four children, two each from his two marriages.
"I've known Garrett since we were kids. I hope he's at peace," family friend Jeanette Hughes Milligan was quoted in Daily Racing Form. "Poor kid."Sports on 08/04/2017
Print Headline: Star-crossed career sends Gomez to Saratoga shrine