Garrett Gomez has never won the Florida Derby or Kentuck Derby, but he's shipping to South Florida from his California base to give it another try.
“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. The trainer and jockey don't hook up all that often but Gomez rode 2007 Woodbine Mile winner Shakespeare and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Courageous Cat for Mott, among others. “He’s obviously a Hall of Famer and a great horseman, and it’s always an honor to ride for him.”
In 2009, Gomez guided Dunkirk to a second-place finish in the Florida Derby behind superstar Quality Road. Gomez ran second in the Kentucky Derby in 2009 with Pioneerof the Nile and finished a trouble-filled sixth last year aboard 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 (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.
“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, (now) 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Agent Ron Anderson, who no longer represents Gomez, secured the mount on To Honor and Serve, due in large part to his long-standing relationship with Mott.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 (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.”
--Edited Gulfstream Park release with additional content by Dick Downey