(from Woodbine report)
Jockey Jack Lauzon, who retired last year as one of the most respected riders in Canada, was named the 2008 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award May 22.
Born Dec. 5, 1961 in Welland, Ontario, Lauzon embarked on his riding career in 1981. He decided to hang up his tack to take on the role of jockey’s agent.
Of all his honors and accomplishments, which included two Queen’s Plate scores (1988 with Sam-Son Farm’s Regal Intention and 1994 aboard Frank Stronach’s Basqueian), Lauzon considers the Gomez Award as one of the most important.
“This would be near the top, if not at the very top of the best things that happened in my career,” said Lauzon. “I didn’t know Avelino, but I idolized him and Sandy Hawley. I wish he was there when I started riding. He would have been someone that could have taught me so much.”
The coveted Gomez Award is given to the person -- Canadian-born, Canadian-raised, or regular rider in the country for more than five years -- who has made significant contributions to the sport.
The award will be presented June 8, the date of Woodbine Oaks, at the Toronto track. It honors the memory of Gomez, one of the sport's most heralded and revered performers. The Cuban-born Gomez died of complications after a three-horse accident in the 1980 Canadian Oaks.
As a lasting reminder of his contributions, a life-size statue of Gomez, who called Toronto home and raised a family there, overlooks Woodbine's walking ring. A replica is presented to each year's honoree.
“I remember I cried like a baby when he died,” said Lauzon. “He was so respected by everyone. He was a great jockey.”
For all the memorable times, Lauzon’s name will forever be associated with one of the most frightening racing incidents the sport has seen.
It came in 1996 in Macau when he was involved in a dramatic spill, one that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Remarkably, on April 9, 1999, Lauzon rode the filly Be Prosperous, his first mount in more than 2 1/2 years. He characterized the moment as a “greater thrill than winning the Queen’s Plate.”
Less than one month later, he teamed with Essa’s Secret to record his first score since the accident.
“If it wasn’t for my fans and all my friends on the backstretch, I wouldn’t have come back," he said. "They were great motivation for me. To this day, when I see someone in a wheelchair, it hits me. That could have been me. I was very lucky.”
Before he got back in the irons, Lauzon tested the waters as a jockey’s agent, representing current Woodbine jockeys Constant Montpellier and Jerry Baird.
Now, he holds the books for Toronto oval riders Garry Cruise and David Garcia.
“I do miss riding, but not so much that I think about it every day,” said Lauzon. “One day, I’d like to get back and work horses again, but right now, I love being an agent.”
In total, Lauzon won 1,619 lifetime races, and 72 stakes, including the Breeders’ Stakes in 1994 with Basqueian, the 1991 Mazarine Breeders’ Cup aboard Hope For A Breeze, and the 1991 Toronto Cup Stakes with Rainbows For Life.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” offered Lauzon. “It’s a great feeling. I just hope I don’t get too emotional during my speech.”
Lauzon joins Ron Turcotte, John Longden, Sandy Hawley, Don MacBeth, Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, Jim McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, Robert Landry, Francine Villeneuve, Sam Krasner, John LeBlanc Sr., and last year’s recipient George Ho Sang, as Gomez honorees.