Baffert Gives Gomez Second Chance

Garrett Gomez is sitting pretty Saturday. The two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey could ride three favorites, ranging from short, shorter to shortest, in three graded stakes at Santa Anita: Flashback in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Beholder in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, and Jimmy Creed in the Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes. In all, he is named to ride in nine of the 11 races, the most for him in one day this meet.

Through Sunday, Gomez had 45 wins from 188 mounts, good for third in Santa Anita’s standings.

But Saturday, it boils down to just another day at the office for the 41-year-old rider, whose battles to hell and back with substance abuse have been well-documented in his award-nominated book, “The Garrett Gomez Story: A Jockey’s Journey Through Addiction & Salvation.”

“I just ride my races,” Gomez said when asked if there was more pressure than usual riding favorites in big races. “Of course, you always look forward to them. Anytime you get an opportunity to ride good horses in good races, it’s exciting.

“Hopefully, the horses all perform the way they have been. We know they’re prepared or else they wouldn’t be entered. They’ve been doing well and hopefully they show their talent.”

Gomez got the mount on Flashback when trainer Bob Baffert jettisoned Julien Leparoux after he finished second on the even-money favorite in the San Felipe Stakes.

Gomez, like others before him in his profession, has been on both sides of the fence. In fact, Gomez was publicly railed by Baffert after finishing fourth in a troubled trip on the trainer’s 4-5 favorite Lookin At Lucky in the 2010 Santa Anita Derby.

“It’s part of the business,” Gomez affirmed. “The wheels just keep turning, but I keep doing what I do. I enjoy riding and winning races, and as long as I keep doing that, hopefully people (trainers) will keep seeking my services and I’ll go out there and perform. The more live horses I get to ride, the better I look.”

Gomez has never ridden Flashback in a race, “but I worked him a week ago Monday. He breezed very nicely, he did everything beautifully and he seems to be very talented.”

As for strategy, Gomez will wait and see. “I don’t know what Bob has in mind yet,” Gomez said, “but I’m sure I will as the race draws nearer. As far as right now, I’ve been on him, gotten a feel for him, and kind of gave him a test drive and it was an enjoyable ride.”

Gomez’s resume to date is replete with Hall of Fame potential save for every jockey’s dream: victory in the Kentucky Derby.

“That’s why most of us ride,” Gomez said. “We have similar goals and that’s what most of us are in the sport to do. Just to ride in it is a heck of an accomplishment, but I want to win that thing. Bob and I got close in 2009 when we ran second with Pioneerof the Nile. “Hopefully we can it get done this year with Flashback.”

The field for the Santa Anita Derby, race nine of 11: Flashback, Garrett Gomez, 9-5; Hear the Ghost, Corey Nakatani, 5-2; Power Broker, Rafael Bejarano, 5-1; Tiz a Minister, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Goldencents, Kevin Krigger, 6-1; Super Ninety Nine, Martin Garcia, 6-1; Summer Exclusive, Edwin Maldonado, 20-1; Storm Fighter, Gary Stevens, 20-1; and Dirty Swagg, Tyler Baze, 50-1. Each horse carries 122 pounds.

In other Santa Anita Derby news:

Bob Baffert, who seems to draw the rail in the majority of stakes races, on getting No. 1 for Flashback: “Can you believe it?,” then quickly tossing in this rational addendum, “but there’s a lot of speed in the race. They’ll sort themselves out.” Baffert has 11 horses entered Saturday.

Tyler Baze anticipates Dirty Swagg outrunning his morning line odds of 50-1 now that the son of Street Hero can properly inhale and exhale again. “They did some throat surgery on him, so hopefully he can breathe better,” Baze said.

That could explain Dirty Swagg’s distant finishes in his last two races, seventh by 14 ¾ lengths in the CashCall Futurity Dec. 15, and fifth by 27 ½ lengths in the Sham Stakes Jan. 5.

Owned, bred and trained by Myung Kwon Cho, Dirty Swagg was third prior to those two races, beaten only a length by Carving in the Real Quiet Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park in November.



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