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Gomez Comes To Gulfstream In Search Of Derby Victory
By Brian Skirka
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Two-time Eclipse Award winning jockey Garrett Gomez has never won the Derby...not at Churchill Downs or Gulfstream Park. But the 39-year-old rider hasn’t given up trying and his quest for his first victory in the Run for the Roses will bring him to Gulfstream Park Sunday for the $1 million Florida Derby (G1).
Gomez will ship to South Florida from his California base to ride To Honor and Serve for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in Gulfstream’s most prestigious race.
“It’s such a big boost of confidence to have a trainer like Bill Mott think of you to ride one of his best horses,” said Gomez, who’s ridden 2007 Woodbine Mile (G1) winner Shakespeare and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) runner-up Courageous Cat for Mott among many others. “He’s obviously a Hall of Famer and a great horseman, and it’s always an honor to ride for him.”
Although he’s been based in southern California during recent winters, Gomez is no stranger to the Florida Derby. In 2009, Gomez guided Dunkirk to a second-place finish behind superstar Quality Road.
Despite having never experienced the thrill of victory, Gomez is no stranger to the Kentucky Derby. Just in the past two years, Gomez ran second in 2009 with Pioneerof the Nile before finishing a trouble-filled sixth last year aboard eventual 3-year-old champion Lookin at Lucky.
“That’s why it’s so hard to win the Derby,” Gomez said. “No matter if you’re on the best horse or not, you never know what is going to happen with a 20-horse field. Last year, the moment we drew the rail Bob [trainer Baffert] and I knew we were in trouble. As soon as the gates opened, I was already in a spot I didn’t want to be.”
His trip aboard Lookin at Lucky just reinforced to Gomez how hard it is to win the Kentucky Derby.
“As a trainer it’s so hard to get a horse good so he can qualify for the Derby and then keep him good so he’s competitive in the race,” Gomez said. “They’re 3-year-olds, so they’re still growing and changing all the time. As a jockey, you just have to be on the right horse on the right day. There are a lot of variables, especially in a 20-horse field.”
A few close calls and bad breaks haven’t lessened Gomez’s will to win the Derby.
“That’s why it’s exciting every year when spring comes around,” Gomez said. “The top 3-year-olds are in top demand and the task of trying to find your Derby horse isn’t easy. Two weeks ago I was at Fair Grounds, last week I was in Hot Springs for the Rebel, next week I’ll be at Gulfstream, and then we have the Santa Anita Derby coming up.”
Agent Ron Anderson, who no longer represents Gomez, secured the mount on To Honor and Serve, due in large part to his long-standing relationship with Mott.
“I’ve been dealing with Bill Mott going back to my days with Jerry Bailey,” Anderson said. “In five years, Garrett has won 12 Breeders’ Cup races – I’ve never been around anyone who has ever done that. I think [Mott] and Mrs. Weber [Charlotte, of Live Oak Plantation] just realized that Garrett is the best man for the job.”
Gomez will be riding To Honor and Serve for the first time in the Florida Derby, but says he is somewhat familiar with the son of Bernardini.
“I know he can run,” Gomez said. “He’s certainly a talented horse. He ran a respectable race last time out in his first start of the year, and I’m expecting him to move forward off of that race.”