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Gomez Is a Visitor in His Backyard

The California jockey returns to ride in the American Oaks, but his East Coast success may be setting up a tour that changes with seasons.

July 02, 2006|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Those hoping to see jockey Garrett Gomez return to ride regularly in California are going to have to wait.

The second-leading money winner in the country through nearly half of 2006 with more than $7.9 million in earnings, Gomez plans to remain in New York through Saratoga and part of Belmont Park's fall season, then return for the beginning of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita on Sept. 27.

Ideally, he would like to continue to ride in California in the winter months, then head east.

Gomez, whose wife, Pam, and two children remain in the family home near Santa Anita, will be at Hollywood Park this weekend, looking for his first win in the $750,000 American Oaks today when he rides Wait A While for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Third in the 2005 Oaks on 43-1 outsider Singhalese, Gomez has continued to ride for Pletcher, who has won the last two Eclipse Awards as the nation's top trainer, despite the return of John Velazquez, Pletcher's main man.

Not long after hiring agent Ron Anderson, who represented Jerry Bailey for about six years before the Hall of Famer's retirement in January, Gomez left California to ride for Pletcher after Velazquez was injured in an April spill at Keeneland.

Gomez, 34, has more than held his own. He won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a Grade I, for Pletcher on English Channel on Kentucky Derby Day and won three stakes for the trainer on the Preakness program at Pimlico.

Gomez is tied for fourth in the Belmont Park standings with 29 victories.

"Everything is going well," he said. "We're trying to enjoy our stay. I'm very pleased with how things have gone. I'm happy with the way people have accepted me and we are pleased with how things have turned out. I'm getting to ride some nice horses for some nice people."

Still, Gomez misses California. He returned to see his family for a couple of days earlier this week, returning to New York late Tuesday night so he could ride at Belmont on Wednesday.

He said it was the first time he had been home since the week before the Kentucky Derby.

"New York is a lot different," he said. "There are a lot of good restaurants and a whole different style of living. But California is home and it's always nice to come home. My kids miss me really bad.

"I would never stay in New York all year round. We're testing the waters about being able to ride there in the summertime and here in the wintertime."

A 3-year-old gray daughter of Maria's Mon, Wait A While has won four of nine for Pletcher and Arindel Farm.

The American Oaks will be only the second grass start for Wait A While, but she was dominant in her turf debut on Sept. 28 at Belmont, where she beat maidens by five lengths under Velazquez.

"I know Todd is very excited to get her back on the turf," Gomez said. "I haven't worked her on the turf, but her win last time was very impressive."

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