Anderson’s life still
great after Bailey

Jan 1, 2007 6:15 AM

The team of Garrett Gomez and Ron Anderson is a marriage made in heaven.

Gomez, who was 35 on New Year’s Day, and 52-year-old Las Vegas native Anderson, blended into an ideal alliance a year ago. Anderson was coming off a brief respite following the retirement on Jan. 28, 2006 of seven-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jerry Bailey, while Gomez had recently vanquished the demons of substance abuse. During two years out of the saddle, his avoirdupois had ballooned to 147 pounds, 30 more than his riding weight, before he resumed his career on Sept. 20, 2004.

It is said that opposites attract. Away from the track, Gomez and Anderson were as disparate as fire and ice, but that was before Garrett rededicated himself and landed on Anderson’s doorstep.

"As far as I’m concerned, he fell out of the sky," Anderson said of Gomez, the leading rider at the recent Hollywood Park meeting and the favorite to win an Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey of 2006. The Tucson native’s purse earnings of more than $21.8 million were best in the nation early in the Santa Anita meet.

"He’s a great kid, he’s a great rider and he’s a really nice person," Anderson said. "He never bothers me. He just comes out and rides. I don’t worry about him, he doesn’t worry about me. I feel very fortunate."

Gomez earned the Shoemaker Award as outstanding jockey after winning two Breeders’ Cup races and missing a third by a head in 2005 when represented by agent Jim Pegram, who was shocked when Gomez left him to join Anderson.

Agents routinely beat the bushes and deflecting rejection is part of their regimen, but whether their efforts can turn an ordinary rider into a great one, or whether the reverse is true and a talented jockey can make an agent look like Col. Tom Parker, is debatable.

"It takes a good rider to make the agent," said Anderson, who told me after Bailey’s retirement that he would "wait until the proper situation comes along that fits me" before representing another jockey. "I do an excellent job but I can’t make chicken salad out of chicken (bleep). It’s a team, but Garrett has the ability and the proper demeanor. He’s very good with everybody, he’s very even-keeled and a tremendous rider, a tremendous finisher and very strong. He rides horses out for minor awards, and owners are grateful to him for getting second, third and fourth money. He rides his ass off and they appreciate that."

His family, naturally, appreciates him, too. His wife, Pam, and their children, Jared and Amanda, endured and supported him during his travail.

"His wife has been great and he pretty much lives for his kids," Anderson said. "Right now, everything’s good, both with his family and business. He’ll ride at Santa Anita this winter, then most likely go to Keeneland before the end of Santa Anita (April 22), but we’ll see what happens."

In the meantime, Anderson is enjoying the ride. It would have been unrealistic to think he might ever again scale the heights reached with nonpareil Bailey, but it turns out Gomez isn’t exactly chopped liver.

"I just feel really fortunate to have teamed up with Garrett," Anderson said. "I could have ended up in a lot of different spots, but to me, he’s the whole package. He’s a great rider, a really nice guy and fun to be around. People like that in him. They like to play golf with him. After representing Gary Stevens (9½ years), Chris Antley (four years) and Jerry Bailey (nearly six years), I didn’t have to wind up with a guy who has these qualities, trust me. I could have done a lot worse."

The Homestretch

Gomez won four races at Santa Anita on opening day after he donated $10,000 to the Winners Foundation, which helped him recover from substance abuse. "Life’s great now and I was more than happy to do it," Gomez said. "Ron has done a great job and we worked our butts off in 2006. I wouldn’t be here today and all this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the Winners Foundation. The money is just a small way of saying thanks." The organization, located on site at Santa Anita, is an industry-funded group that helps racing personnel overcome misuse of alcohol and drugs.

”¡ Anderson enjoyed a stellar opening day. Not only did Gomez win four, but Ron’s other rider, Richard Migliore, won his first race ever at Santa Anita with a ground-saving ride aboard Kip Deville in the Sir Beaufort Stakes.

”¡ Former baseball great Richie Allen was at Santa Anita’s opener. Allen, who along with ex-Phil Pete Rose is one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame, clearly is in his element at the race track. The 65-year-old former slugger has an eight-acre facility in Pennsylvania called Hollow Acres where he prepares young horses for the Bowie training center in Maryland. "Ain’t it good to be above ground? Allen gushed to his race track friends.

”¡ With apologies to the late President Ford, the Flyers’ long National Hockey League nightmare is over. They ended a franchise-record 10-game losing streak with a 4-3 win at Tampa last Thursday.