Two-time Eclipse Award
–winning jockey Garrett Gomez, who hadn’t ridden since July 14 while
endeavoring to resolve personal issues, made a smashing return to
competition Saturday with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory aboard
longshot Dice Flavor in
the Grade II $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for three-year-olds.
Dice Flavor, sent postward at 8-1 in a highly competitive line-up of
nine sophomores running a mile and one-sixteenth over the infield Jimmy
Durante Turf Course, sliced between horses entering the stretch in a
deft maneuver by Gomez. Once in the clear, Dice Flavor wore down Den’s
Legacy in the closing strides to win by a half-length.
Final time for the distance was a brilliant 1:39.82, just
thirty-one-hundredths of a second slower than the course record of
1:39.5 set in the 2010 renewal of the La Jolla by the swift Sidney’s
Den’s Legacy and jockey Corey Nakatani, who appeared to have the La
Jolla wrapped up until collared by the winner, was a neck in front of
Pure Loyalty, with Dry Summer fourth.
Freakin Rocket, the lukewarm 5-2 favorite ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith on the occasion of his 48th
birthday, raced prominently into the stretch but then weakened to
finish seventh. Greeley Awesome, 7-2 second choice, never threatened and
Dice Flavor, a son of Scat Daddy owned by Oda Racing Stable and US
Equine and trained by Patrick Gallagher, returned $19.80, $9.20 and
$5.40 while earning $90,000 after his third triumph in nine career
outings, increasing his bankroll to $274,500. His most important
previously was in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields last
Den’s Legacy, an 8-1 shot, returned $9.60 and $5.80, while Pure Loyalty paid $5.60 to show.
The La Jolla Handicap is the prelude to the championship-deciding Grade II $300,000 Del Mar Derby on Sunday, Sept. 1.
Gomez almost won in his first race back from his lay-off, narrowly
losing aboard Southern Sunshine to favored Bajan by a nose in the second
Three jockeys had riding doubles – standings leader Rafael Bejarano, veteran Victor Espinoza and apprentice Irving Orozco.
Saturday’s attendance was 25,769.