For focused Garrett Gomez, the future is the present

Aug 19, 2008 6:51 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden | Solitude provides life’s defining moments, such as when the mind withdraws to a single thought focusing on emotions ranging from joy to regret, occurring when the head hits the pillow for a date with Morpheus, or the human consciousness wanders while driving alone in your car.

Garrett Gomez could dwell on fantasies ill and good, should he choose and if he had time. But today the 36-year-old Tucson native, trim and fit, is at the apex of his profession as one of the world’s premier riders.

Four years ago, it looked like he had no chance. Delusional and woefully out of riding shape due to substance abuse, Gomez looked like he just won a hot dog-eating contest. He had missed nearly two years in the saddle, from Dec. 12, 2002, to Sept. 10, 2004, and at one point, his weight had ballooned to 147 pounds, producing an alarmingly protruding gut, not the most appealing corporeal characteristic for a jockey, ex or not.

Today his physique is rock-hard and sculpted, and his body fat is about one percent. He is vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger in miniature. Gomez rides at 115 pounds, but his diet is not nearly as extreme as was Laffit Pincay Jr.’s, which was reputed to be as low as 600 calories a day at one point in his luminous career.

Gomez could increase his current standard by a pound or two, since the majority of horses he rides are of high quality and assigned at least that much weight based on conditions of their races.

"It feels like what happened was so long ago, considering the miles I’ve traveled and with everything I’ve accomplished through hard work the last couple of years," Gomez said when asked to recount his ride to the top. "But I haven’t forgotten where I came from. It’s not like that. You get caught up with what’s current in your life and not the past. Still, I stay in touch with those who helped me through the rehabilitation process.

"Everybody who was in my life when I went through the ordeal of getting clean and rebuilding my life is still there, so it’s not like I’ve distanced myself from that; I just don’t think about it, mainly because I’m so busy with my career I don’t have time. The same can be said about my future. I don’t think about it because I don’t have time. My plate’s so full, I only think about the moment.

"The rare moments when I’m alone, occasionally my mind will drift to thoughts other than racing, usually about how grateful I am for where I am today and not regrets about what I should have done, because there’s nothing I can do about the past. I can’t change that, and it wouldn’t make me the person I am today anyway.

"I respect the people who stayed with me and supported me. Whether the counselors in the programs I went through were mean to me or whether I liked them or not, everything that’s happened in my life has happened for a reason and has gotten me where I am today."

Gomez was born into racing on New Year’s Day, 1972.

"My dad (Louie) was a rider (Garrett rode against him four times) and I was always at the track," Gomez recalled. "I rode the fair circuit before moving to Fonner Park and Aksarben in Nebraska, but when I was a kid, I grew up with my father and hung out at the races. I’d be in the security office every day and they’d be calling for Mrs. Gomez to come get her son. I was always in trouble for doing something up in the grandstand."

Fast forward through Aug. 13, 2008, at which point Gomez led Robby Albarado by nearly $2 million for the national money lead, despite the fact that the majority of Albarado’s booty came from the $3.6 million he gleaned winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup aboard Curlin.

Despite a slow start at Del Mar (three wins in the first two weeks), Gomez is an optimist who trusts in fate. With four Breeders’ Cup wins and his first Eclipse Award in 2007 as he led the nation for the second straight year in purse earnings ($22.8 million), he is poised to win that title for the third straight year and could break his record of 76 stakes wins in one year set in 2007.

Gomez had 46 through Aug. 9. Through August of last year, he had 51, but stakes business generally picks up late in the year, so he still is within hailing distance of another record. His lone major objective, however, remains that of every rider’s: win the Kentucky Derby.

"I have a lot of goals," Gomez said. "I’ll just keep working and doing what I’ve been doing and hopefully we’ll keep marching forward."

The "we" includes one of the world’s top agents, Las Vegas native Ron Anderson, who guided Jerry Bailey to unprecedented heights before taking Gomez under his sagacious wing three years ago.

It’s been a symbiotic relationship. "He says sometimes he wishes I’d ask more questions," Gomez says of his mentor, "but if my curiosity was keen enough that I knew how to do his job, then why would I need him? The whole point in having someone like Ron is I don’t have to worry about what he’s doing. I concentrate on where I have to be, what time I have to be there, and what horse I have to ride, and that makes my life so much easier.

"I don’t have to second-guess Ron on why we’re not riding a certain horse. That wouldn’t allow me to focus on what I have to do, which is riding the horse in the race. Ron takes care of everything outside of riding the horse and that gives me an edge, because I have no other worries. The only worry I have is getting to the jocks’ room on time."

Contentment is derived not solely from riding in Southern California, but from living at his Arcadia home with his family: wife Pam and their three children, Jared, Collin and Shelby. "I’ll be riding full time in Southern California through the Breeders’ Cup (at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 and 25)," said Gomez, whose business had placed him on the East Coast with first call to icons such as Todd Pletcher.

"It was time for me to come back anyway," Gomez said. "This is home, but I went out there to ride for Todd and a couple other trainers while Johnny (Velazquez) was hurt, so we stayed a few extra years and the change was nice, but this is home and I enjoy riding here. I love the weather; you can’t beat it."

The homestretch

• Here’s a guaranteed way to get rich quick: Bet anyone the first pitch to any Phillies’ batter is a strike (the Phils struck out 13 times in an 8-3 loss to lowly San Diego last Saturday).

• Actually heard in a 99-Cent Store: a cashier calling for a price check.

• American swimmer Michael Phelps dropped his swimsuit so low after an Olympic victory his pubic hair almost became public hair.

• And my only question about Russia invading Georgia is, how close did they come to Atlanta?