All things being
equal, Gomez opts
for Ron Anderson

Feb 28, 2006 1:25 AM

A successful salesman once told me that creating good business is accomplished by establishing relationships built on a foundation of friendship, loyalty and trust.

"The product is secondary," he said. "Essentially, they all have the same bells and whistles. When push comes to shove, the difference between a good salesman and a mediocre one is the relationship the seller has with the buyer."

And so it is with agents who represent a jockey. Each has a commodity with similar nose hairs. Assuredly, there are exceptional differences, such as Jerry Bailey and a cowboy riding in the bushes, but horses have run and won for third-line jocks and even exercise riders on the rare occasions that the big boys have gone on a work stoppage.

The recent spate of musical chairs in Southern California prompted by the retirement on Jan. 28 of Hall of Fame rider Bailey affected jocks and agents alike. Bailey enjoyed top billing during a 6½-year run directed by Las Vegas-born agent Ron Anderson. But with Bailey now sans saddle, Anderson was temporarily out of business — that is until Garrett Gomez recognized an opportunity and jumped on it like white on rice.

It was only a matter of time before Anderson was back in business. Ron without a rider would be like Geraldo without a mustache.

Gomez, whose weight ballooned to 147 pounds while he was sidelined nearly two years fighting substance abuse problems before he returned on Sept. 10, 2004, reached racing’s apex last Oct. 29. He won two Breeders’ Cup races and missed a third by a head. His performance earned him the Shoemaker Award as outstanding jockey. These feats were realized under veteran agent Jim Pegram, who had nurtured Gomez from the depths of despair and even jail into fighting shape.

So when Gomez suddenly and unexpectedly fired Pegram, critics viewed the 34-year-old rider as a villainous ingrate. Gomez, second in Santa Anita’s jockey standings despite a mild slump, would call it good business.

"It was a fluke kind of thing," Gomez told me. "Somebody had me call Ron but I didn’t know who I was calling. When Ron answered the phone, I’m like, ”˜Who is this?’ and he told me, and I told him who I was. We talked to each other and eventually decided to see how we would hook up. He was interested and I was very interested. I think this will be a big boost for my career. I’m very grateful for the success Pegram and I had. We did very well together. He’s a good agent and I wish him all the best."

Gomez said he saw the parting of the ways coming for some time, but says his slump had little to do with his decision.

"It was rough for me at first when I sensed Pegram and I were starting to drift apart but I thought we smoothed things out," Gomez said. "I don’t like to burn bridges and Jim and I have been together a couple times. He had me about five or six years ago, David (Flores) and I at the same time, but then we split. We ended up back together and had a great year last year.

"My decision to make the change in agents didn’t really have a whole lot to do with what was happening recently. My stats had diminished but that wasn’t the reason. This happened over a period of time, but I kind of covered my eyes for a while. He had his own way of doing things and I felt I would roll with it. He’s been around for a long time. We had some communication problems, like I said, but this decision has been building over time. It didn’t happen overnight."

Sounds specious enough, but when the chance came to grab Anderson, despite Garrett’s repose with sameness, he put loyalty and gratitude on the back burner.

"I’m an alcoholic; I’m an addict," Gomez said. "I like things to stay the same. I like winning Breeders’ Cup races. I want to do it again. I’m comfortable with what I like."

And business is business. Jockeys and agents marry and divorce constantly, like they’re on testosterone overload. But Anderson says he would have returned to Southern California for Gomez and only Gomez.

"To be honest, I would have come back for one guy and nobody else," Anderson said. "Garrett is young, he’s doing well and it’s exciting for me to come back. I’ve been an agent since 1973 and I’ve been fortunate enough to have Gary Stevens, Chris Antley and Jerry Bailey. I hope the success continues with Garrett. He’s a super-talent."

Anderson understandably hedged when asked if he thought he and Gomez could reach the summit attained with Bailey. "I’m not going to make any statements," he said, "but everything is very exciting at this point."

Sounds like a pitch from a good salesman.


Richie Silverstein, agent for Martin Pedroza, on how the Anderson-Gomez relationship will impact business at Santa Anita: "When you add more riders to a jockey colony, it gets tougher. When you add top agents, it gets tougher. Gomez has established business and Ronnie’s at the top of his game, so with Pegram getting Kent Desormeaux and Bob Meldahl staying with Corey Nakatani, it makes it more competitive. It adds another player and the pie is only so big. Everybody gets a smaller slice because Gomez and Ron will get their slice, that’s for sure."

Good news, bad news on Barry Bonds. The bad news: He says he’s coming back to play again this year. The good news: It might be his last.