Gomez’ Classic ride on Blame was partly payback to Baffert

Garrett Gomez, right, talks Ralph Siraco through a replay of the Breeders' Cup Classic as Blame holds off Zenyatta in the stretch.

LAS VEGAS — In the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, it seemed that winning jockey Garrett Gomez was riding against one horse — and it wasn’t Zenyatta.

Racing down the backstretch in the $5 million stakes, Gomez had Blame about 10 lengths off of the early pace being set by First Dude. With the early speed tiring entering the stretch, Blame surged with a 4-wide move through horses with Lookin At Lucky just to his outside.

Gomez said, at that point, he looked over at jockey Martin Garcia — the rider who replaced him on Lookin At Lucky after the colt’s sixth-place finish as the Kentucky Derby favorite. Two weeks after the Derby, Garcia rode Lookin At Lucky to victory in the Preakness Stakes, and then Garcia won both the Haskell Invitational and the Indiana Derby on the colt.

“When I turned for home, I said ‘he is not going to beat me,’ ” said Gomez, who was speaking to 128 horseplayers Dec. 21 at the South Point Casino race book in Las Vegas.

Blame began inching away from Lookin At Lucky with 300 yards to go. Then  Blame kept on going to lead Lookin At Lucky by almost four lengths at the wire, as Zenyatta closed to miss by a head.

Although Lookin At Lucky is a talented colt and Gomez is a great rider, the two never clicked last spring, so trainer Bob Baffert gave the mount to Garcia for the Preakness. Rarely does Gomez get pulled from a horse due to poor riding, but when it happens he is determined to make the trainer and owner regret it.

“That’s what I try to do,” Gomez said. “If I am not on the horse, then I want them to wish I was when it’s over.”

In the Kentucky Derby, Lookin At Lucky was shut off coming out of post position one, which forced Gomez to steady. Then in the front stretch, Lookin At Lucky was bumped hard on the sloppy track, forcing Gomez to pull the horse toward the rear.

Lookin At Lucky, who usually runs in mid-pack, was 20 lengths behind down the Derby backstretch. He ran on gamely, but was never a threat to Derby winner Super Saver.

Also, Gomez was aboard Lookin At Lucky in his previous race, the Santa Anita Derby. Again, Gomez, who lost this race too, got into trouble with the colt and was forced to steady. 

After losing these two races, Baffert had seen enough and made a change.

Garrett Gomez at South Point Casino race book on Dec. 21.

In retrospect, Gomez said that had Baffert kept him on Lookin At Lucky throughout the year, then he probably would not have ridden Blame in the Classic.  “And it probably wouldn’t have worked out like it did,” he said.

Gomez and Baffert have had a great relationship over the years, with Baffert replacing many jockeys so Gomez could ride his best horses. Because of Gomez’ history with Baffert, and the fact that the two have won several Breeders Cup races together, Gomez thinks he would have chosen Lookin At Lucky over Blame as his BC mount.

Gomez expects to keep riding for Baffert in the future.

During the talk at South Point, radio host Ralph Siraco — who was interviewing Gomez at the front of the room — asked the jockey how concerned he was about Zenyatta, who won 19 straight races coming into the Classic.

Gomez said Zenyatta is a tremendous race horse, but he knew she had one glaring hole in her resume. Although Zenyatta won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, that race was on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface and the 2010 Classic was at Churchill Downs.

“She had never run against really good horses on dirt,” Gomez said. “Now she was going to be facing the best in the country on dirt.”

Everybody knew Zenyatta would make a stretch run, and when Gomez saw her coming, he intentionally drifted Blame toward her to help keep Blame’s competitive juices flowing. It worked, as Blame held on.

About a month before the Classic, Gomez knew that Blame would be retired after the race. The 4-year-old is going to stand at Claiborne Farm, which is a beautiful, peaceful place with open pastures and rolling hills. “I would like to retire there myself,” Gomez joked.

Siraco asked Gomez whether he thinks Blame should be Horse of the Year over Zenyatta. Gomez has a bias, he admitted, but thinks that the debate was settled on the track.

“I would like to win the Eclipse myself, just like I would like to see Blame win Horse of the Year” Gomez said. “I think he deserves it.”

Siraco took the microphone into the crowd where a horseplayer asked Gomez if he was ever involved in a fight with another jockey like the one between Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano on Breeders’ Cup day.

Jockeys risk their lives during the course of the race, Gomez said, and they have their own code to police reckless riders who endanger others. Most times, it involves strong language and sometimes fighting.

“That’s usually the way we take care of it, but most of the time we wait until we are back in the jockey’s room,” Gomez said.

Also, the stewards are responsible for keeping racing safe, but Gomez does not think it’s necessary for them to interview the jockeys before making a decision. Some riders speak broken English, which gives the articulate ones an advantage, Gomez said.

Gomez gave the audience some things to think about when handicapping the races.

Often horseplayers studying past performances don’t fully realize that horses have good days and bad days — just like people, Gomez said. Sometimes they want to run and other days they just don’t feel like doing anything. For example, maybe the horse developed the flu on race day and the trainer did not detect it, the rider said.

Handicappers, Gomez advised, can look for signs of aggressiveness to confirm whether the horses they bet are feeling good.

Blame, for example, will usually try to nip the stable pony that leads him to the starting gate. But before the Jockey Club Gold Cup in October, Blame never tried to bite the pony at all — and he finished a well-beaten third, Gomez said.

“In the Breeders Cup Classic, he was back on his game. He had more of the fight that he had at the beginning of the year,” Gomez said.

Another racing fan asked Gomez about jockeys who look over their shoulders in the stretch. When he looks back, Gomez said, a lot of times it is to see how much energy he needs to ask his horse to expend before hitting the wire.

“You are getting a gauge on the competition,” he said.

Sometimes Gomez will wait on a horse before pulling away because “that knocks the try out of them.”

He doesn’t prepare much the night before the races because Gomez prefers to wait to see which horses are scratched. His agent, Ron Anderson, makes almost all the decisions about who he will ride, and Gomez loves synthetic tracks, especially the one at Keeneland.

However, the synthetics at Hollywood and Del Mar do not have the right components in the mixture, he said.

“Out of all of the synthetic tracks we have (in California),” Gomez said, “none were installed correctly.”

 Santa Anita, which opens Dec. 26, put in a new dirt track and Gomez reported that it is getting good reviews.

During workouts, horses are bouncing right over it, he added.

“It is supposed to be a sandy race track, but for some reason they are working fast,” Gomez said.

Gomez, who grew up at the racetrack, said his father rode 22 years at small tracks in New Mexico. Gomez began his riding career in Phoenix, then went to Nebraska and later to the larger tracks in the Midwest. In 1994, Gomez took his tack to Del Mar, but returned to the Midwest after Del Mar ended.

In 1998, Gomez came back to California for good where he now makes his home with his wife and two daughters. He built an equistrian arena on his property, which his 7-year-old uses to practice riding. “It is just a great family fun spot,” Gomez said.

Gomez, 38, who usually traverses the country riding the best horses in the biggest races, would like to spend more time with his family in California in 2011.

“Over the course of the next year, I am going to play it by ear,” Gomez said. “I would like to stay in California, but if the racing doesn’t get a lot better then I am going to have to head out again.”

Sunday, Del Mar Race 6 — 4:30 pm post time

Maiden King conquers So. Calif. maiden races

Maiden Special Weight, 5-1/2 furlongs, 2 yo fillies

Possible overlays                   Morning line

#1 Blaze Along                             3/1
#5 Lofty Ambition                         5/2
#6 Clearly Concerned                   7/2
#7 Candid Ride                             4/1

Over the last few years, a good bet when looking for first-time starters in maiden special weight races for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds has been to find top trainers running early foals with good workouts that are going off at decent prices.

In this race, four trainers are winning more than 20 percent of their races for the year: Bob Baffert, Carla Gaines, Jerry Hollendorfer and John Sadler. Their fillies scheduled to go to post in this race all have good workouts and were born in January, February and March.

The morning line maker has them all priced somewhere between 5/2 and 4/1. Of course, all I care about are the odds at post time and I will take whatever horses the public gives me.

I will bet $500 to win on the two highest-odds horses that are between 7/2 and 9/1 among #1 Blaze Along, #5 Lofty Ambition, #6 Dearly Concerned and #7 Candid Ride.


Results: Lost $1,000. Had $500 to win on #6 Dearly Concerned at 4-1 and another $500 win bet on #7 Candid Ride at 5-1.


2 1 Sky Flying Eileen (KY) Quinonez A Cho M 23.10 2
3 2 Blondies Bling (FL) Scott J Kirkham B 31.90 6
1 3 Blazing Along (KY) Medina L Baffert B 2.20 3
4 4 True Way of Grace (FL) Valenzuela P Barba A 30.20 8
5 5 Lofty Ambition (KY) Bejarano R Gaines C 2.40 7
6 6 Dearly Concerned (KY) Espinoza V Hollendorfer J 4.30 9
7 7 Candid Ride (PA) Rosario J Sadler J 5.60 10
8 8 Rigoletta (FL) Flores D Hendricks D 12.20 1
9 9 Anniversary Girl (KY) Smith M Hollendorfer J 14.20 5
1A 10 Star Presence (KY) Garcia M Baffert B 2.20 4
Pgm Win Place Show
8 $26.40 $10.00 $5.80
2 $19.20 $9.00
1 $2.80
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $313.70 (8-2)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $779.60 (7-1-8)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $7581.10 (8-2-1-9)

RUNNERS WANTED. Experience preferred.

A horse heads onto the track earlier this year at Del Mar. In Southern California, 2-yo and 3-yo first-time starters are winning less frequently than in the past

I noticed an eye-opening trend recently. Since the beginning of 2009, young horses — 2- year-olds and 3-year-olds — making their first lifetime starts at So. California tracks are not winning with the frequency they once did, and almost all of them are unprofitable long-term plays.

Maybe it’s the synthetic tracks, maybe it’s a short-term variance to be fixed by the law of large numbers, or maybe during these tough economic times, owners want some second, third or fourth place purse money before going for the big prize.

In any event, the only young debut horses that are worth a wager these days are those saddled by trainers with an overall win rate of 20 percent or more.

In this study, I looked at first-time starters in maiden sprints for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds at Southern California tracks that ran from November 1, 2006 to December 31, 2008. Then I compared them to debuters that ran from January 1, 2009 to May 23, 2010. I did not use any first timers in races written for horses 3-year-olds and up or 4-year-olds and up. Those types of debuters are in a whole different world. 

I used early foals only — those born in January, February and March — because those are the ones who win most frequently. Then I looked at two trainer groups — the ones whose winning percentages were 20 or more on the day the debuter ran, and those  trainers with winning percentages of less than 20. 

Finally, I broke it down by odds: Horses that were between 7/2 and 9/1, and those whose post time odds were between 10/1 to 19/1.

This is what I found out: Before 2009, trainers with less than a 20 percent win rate who saddled first-time starters with odds between 10/1 and 19/1 won 29 of 299 races or 9.6 percent. A $1 bet on all 299 runners returned $1.50 for every $1 wagered.

However after 2009, these sub-20 percent trainers won with only 7 of 140, or 5 percent, of their runners in the 10/1 to 19/1 odds range. If someone were to bet $1 on all of them after 2009, they would have gotten back just 65 cents for every $1 bet.

In the sub-20 percent winning trainer group, I also looked at their debuters at odds of between 7/2 and 9/1, who had at least two workouts in the top 20 percent for that day’s distance.  Before 2009, the sub-20 percent trainers’ first timers won 26 or 134 races, or 19.4 percent, for an ROI of $1.43 for every $1 wagered.

But after 2009, just 8 of 56 of these 7/2 to 9/1-odds debuters won. The 14 percent win rate gave somebody who wagered $1 on each horse a return of just 90 cents.

Trainer Bob Baffert signs an autograph in Del Mar's paddock. Baffert is the kind of high percentage trainer that is still a good bet with debuters

For the track’s best horsemen, first-time starters going off at odds between 7/2 and 9/1 with two good works is still an extremely strong bet. But once their odds hit 10/1 to 19/1, it becomes less clear.

Before 2009, trainers with an overall record of at least 20 percent wins, had 9 victories in 37 tries, or 24 percent, with first-time starters between 7/2 and 9/1. Every $1 bet returned $1.61. After 2009, the record of these trainers strengthened with debuters between 7/2 and 9/1 to 34.7 percent with 8 wins in 23 starts for an ROI of $2.26 for every $1 wagered. 

Before 2009, at odds of 10/1 to 19/1, these 20-percent-plus trainers won 9 of 61 starts for a win rate of 14.7 percent. Backers got $2.16 for every $1 bet. However, after 2009, these top trainers won just 3 of 32 starts in this odds range for a return of $1.15 for every $1 bet.

In summary, these days, 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds making their first lifetime starts are only strong wagers if the trainer’s win rate is 20 percent or more, the runner has at least two good workouts, and the horse’s odds are between 7/2 and 9/1.

Betting any other first timer is a shaky proposition.

Eight years

Bob Baffert announced to his Facebook friends that today is his eight-year wedding anniversary to his wife, Jill. They were married just before War Emblem’s Haskell Stakes in 2002.

Also, Baffert said that Lookin at Lucky is recovering well from the 102-degree temperature that he suffered this morning.

Owner Mike Pegram and Baffert were considering the Travers before the setback, but now the 3-year-old colt will not run at Saratoga.

Lookin at Lucky will stay at Monmouth Park until completely healthy, Baffert said.

Results, Del Mar, Saturday, Race 7 — lost $800

Jockey Alonso Quinonez

Eight of the 10 runners in this race were making their first lifetime starts. Many of them hailed from the world’s top barns: Those run by Bob Baffert, John Sadler, Jerry Hollendorfer and Doug O’Neill.

But amazingly, the debuter with the no-name jockey — Alonso Quinonez — and the low-profile trainer — Myung Kwon Cho — got the job done.

Although lots of these eight debuters had quick workouts and great connections, each one seemed to have strong drawbacks, also.
By looking at years of past results, I know that Florida breds have better records for precociousness in Southern California than horses bred in Kentucky or California. So, I prefer them.
But in this race, Florida breds #4 Rock So Hard and #6 The Phenom were both May foals, which are usually a money-losing propositions when debuting. Other information sent me mixed messages, too. 
For example, trainer Bob Baffert, who saddled Rock So Hard, also ran #7 Prayer for Relief, who was a February foal with good workouts – both positives. 
Baffert has an outstanding record when he uses jockey Martin Garcia on his first timers. But Garcia was on Rock So Hard and not Prayer for Relief. So Baffert’s money horse was unclear to me.
In the race, #10 Premier Pegasus, who is a son of Fusaichi Pegasus, shot out of the gate at 44-to-1. As the field went down the backstretch, Rock So Hard took the lead, but some seven runners were within two lengths of each other. On the inside, jockey Tyler Baze tried to make a move with #1 Red Sharp Humor, but that didn’t work, so he backed off.
Throughout the turn and at the top of the lane, the running order didn’t change much. Rock So Hard led on the inside, Premier Pegasus was a head behind in the two path, while #9 Just Imagine was looming three wide and a half a length away.
The field remained compact as race caller Trevor Denman told the crowd “this one’s wide open.” In deep stretch, Garcia was wailing away with his whip on Rock So Hard, while Quinonez was essentially hand riding Premier Pegasus, although the rider did give him a few taps of the stick as the wire approached.
Just Imagine disappointed his backers by hanging in the stretch as the even money favorite. I’ve heard race track myths that when first time starters are bet down below 3-to-1 they are great bets. But, in reality, they are some of the worst wagers in racing.
I had $200 on #1 Red Sharp Humor at 16/1, $300 on #6 The Phenom at 8/1 and $300 on #7 Prayer for Relief at 10/1.

1 1 Red Sharp Humor (KY) Bejarano R Hollendorfer J 16.40 4
2 2 Clubhouse Ride (KY) Espinoza V Lewis C 9.20 5
3 3 Joburg Star (KY) Flores D Miller P 9.20 7
4 4 Rock So Hard (FL) Garcia M Baffert B 5.20 2
5 5 Palio Prince (KY) Smith M Barba A 42.40 9
6 6 The Phenom (FL) Talamo J Sadler J 8.00 10
7 7 Prayer for Relief (KY) Pedroza M Baffert B 10.10 6
8 8 Purgestein (KY) Santiago Reyes C Bonde J 22.20 8
9 9 Just Imagine (KY) Rosario J O’Neill D 1.00 3
10 10 Premier Pegasus (KY) Quinonez A Cho M 44.40 1
SCR American Wildcat (VA)    
Pgm Win Place Show
10 $90.80 $30.60 $11.00
4 $6.00 $3.60
9 $3.00
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $434.80 (10-4)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $5813.30 (4-10-10)
$1.00 Superfecta paid $18710

In Vegas, being hot is only fun at the gaming tables

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers attended Del Mar's opening day with Kyler Boller of the Oakland Raiders and 2009 Miss California Carrie Prejean

It’s one trip that never disappoints. 

This time of year, the painful Las Vegas sun scorches any fool who dares venture from the 72-degree chilled air of the casino. Most organisms aren’t made to live in this overwhelming desert summer heat. 

That’s why the area surrounding Las Vegas looks like the surface of the moon: aside from a few cactuses and a lizard or two there’s nothing alive out there.  Only God knows how wild horses survive here. 

Certainly, human beings weren’t made for this. Our bodies are mostly composed of water.  We like drinking water, looking at water and submerging ourselves in it. A little humidity and a cool breeze is nice every now and then, too. 

Water makes us happy. Don’t you find it curious that people at the beach always seem so relaxed and good natured, while the residents of  the desert climates of the warring Middle East are often angry and downright hostile? 

Even if Del Mar’s Opener wasn’t one of the best days of the year at any track in America, all arrows were pointing to San Diego for me last Tuesday.  Walking the aisles at a Las Vegas-area Costco, I found $100 coupons for sale at the Hyatt Marina Bay that Costco was selling for $80. And when I booked the room on Costco online, they knocked off another 10 percent and threw in a $25 gift certificate upon arrival. So, this $200-a-night room – right on breezy, 65-degree San Diego Bay – ended up costing just slightly more than the La Quinta Inn built under the screaming, soot-spewing jet engines swooping down at LAX. 

I rented a car – not that my 2002 Acura wouldn’t make it or anything — but if a car depreciates by mileage, then why not put the miles on the one Enterprise owns and not mine? Then I pointed the vehicle toward Del Mar and pulled away, noticing that my car’s temperature gauge read 113-degrees. 

As I drove through State Line, it was baking.  And in Baker, it was roasting. By the time I hit Barstow, I was cooked. 

But gradually, after I passed San Bernardino the temps started to cool down and when I finally got to San Diego five hours later, it was all worthwhile. I was greeted with a cool breeze of heavy, oxygen-rich humid sea air, chilled down to 65 degrees. 

Go ahead, take a deep breath near the ocean in San Diego and you’ll feel like you can run a 26-mile marathon or fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. In Las Vegas, you take that same deep breath, and all you do is cough up desert dust or get a mouthful of  second-hand cigar smoke. 

Before going to Del Mar’s Opening Day, I worked up a sweat by running a few miles through the misty Mission Beach air, then I dove into the frosty Pacific Ocean. Ahhhhh. 

When I got to Del Mar, things just got better. I was allowed to go into the paddock area where former movie stars like Bo Derek were chatting with owners and race fans. While in the winner’s circle, a young woman who was Miss California 2009, was with two NFL quarterbacks. 

Bo Derek was named to the California Horse Racing Board in 2008

Horse racing’s own celebrity of sorts — trainer Bob Baffert — seemed to be everywhere. But mostly he stood not too far from the saddling area, eyeballing his Thoroughbreds while entertaining the partners in the expensive animals that he likely persuaded the men to buy.  

Looking around, a record-setting crowd of 45,000 showed up. And everybody seemed to be dressed up and wound up. As the gates shot open for the first race, the customary huge Opening Day cheer went up from the overflowing grandstand. 

And in the second race, the same thing happened. Only fewer people cheered. But then somebody must have said something because the third race went off without much fanfare. 

As the day went on, drinkers sipped their cocktails, TV personalities interviewed trainers and jockeys, and others just soaked in the tremendous atmosphere. 

Yeah, Del Mar, California. This is the kind of place where human beings thrive. 

TVG's Christina Olivares interviews Bob Baffert after Go On Babe dead heated to win the 7th

Results, Santa Anita Saturday Race 10 — lost $500

Jockey Joe Talamo took #7 Get My Fix off the pace then rolled to victory in the stretch

Jockey Joe Talamo took #7 Get My Fix off the pace then rolled to victory in the stretch

 Usually, when Bob Baffert starts two horses in a race, one or both of them run huge.

In this event, Baffert saddled both #4 The Program, 16-to-1, and #5 Mr Charlie, 4-to-1. But, surprisingly, both broke slowly and neither one fired.

The winner, #7 Get My Fix trained by Brian Koriner, was one of the most likely winners when looking at the past performances. This 2-year-old had run a 79 Beyer Speed Figure in his second lifetime start on Aug. 8, which is significant because the median Beyer Speed Figure for this class is an 80. In his last race, Get My Fix rated behind the leaders and finished up well, which is the preferred running style for 6-1/2 furlongs.

Others who looked like they had a shot were #9 Frisco Kid, a first-time starter who went off at 13-to-1, and #1 The Skinny Man, a 7-to-2 shot. Neither ran well, although The Skinny Man showed speed until the stretch.

In the race, Get My Fix and jockey Joe Talamo mowed down pace setter #10 El Gran Matador while outrunning another late runner, #6 Domonation. In my betting scenario, I intended to bet $200 on Get My Fix if his odds were 5-to-2 or better. But the bet was live only if both #4 The Program and #9 Frisco Kid were 8-to-1 and #5 Mr Charlie was less than 4-to-1.

As the horses loaded into the gate, I bet The Program at 16/1 and Frisco Kid at 13/1. Then Mr Charlie’s odds moved up from 7/2 to 4/1, so I ended up betting him instead of Get My Fix. In all, I wagered $500.

To watch a replay of this race, go to www.calracing.com.

1 1 The Skinny Man (KY) Bejarano R O’Neill D 3.90 9
2 2 Kuro (KY) Espinoza V Machowsky M 15.40 6
3 3 Mister Do It (KY) Valdivia, Jr. J Hendricks D 53.90 10
4 4 The Program (KY) Garcia M Baffert B 16.00 5
5 5 Mr Charlie (KY) Smith M Baffert B 4.00 8
6 6 Domonation (KY) Rosario J Sadler J 8.40 2
7 7 Get My Fix (KY) Talamo J Koriner B 2.80 1
8 8 Brady Blue Eyes (KY) Borel C Glatt M 4.20 4
9 9 Frisco Kid (FL) Solis A Headley B 13.60 7
10 10 El Gran Matador (NY) Santiago Reyes C Becerra R 53.70 3
Pgm Win Place Show
7 $7.60 $4.40 $3.60
6 $9.40 $6.80
10 $16.40
Exotic Payoffs
$1.00 Exacta paid $39.30 (7-6)
$1.00 Pick 3 paid $91.20 (5-1-7)
$1.00 Pick 4 paid $1679.50 (8-2/5-1-7)
$1.00 Pick 5 paid $3351.10 (1/6/9-8-2/5-1-7)
$1.00 Place Pick All paid $583.30 (10 OF 10)
$1.00 Super High Five paid $0.00 (NO WINNING TICKE
$1.00 Superfecta paid $9445.30 (7-6-10-8)
$1.00 Trifecta paid $1372.40 (7-6-10)
$2.00 Daily Double paid $84.40 (1-7)
$2.00 Pick 6 paid $11781.60 (10-1/6/9-8-2/5-1-7)
$2.00 Pick 6 paid $89.60 (10-1/6/9-8-2/5-1-7)
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