Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez has been cleared to ride again as soon as Aug. 7 after meeting with stewards at Del Mar, provided he tests at acceptable levels for drugs he has been taking.
"He'll have to jump through some hoops but he can begin exercising horses provided he can show us that he is detoxified to an acceptable level," steward Kim Sawyer said following a 90-minute hearing with Gomez prior to the races Aug. 2. Sawyer said Gomez will have his urine tested daily by California Horse Racing Board investigators, beginning Friday evening, to assure that he is in condition to ride.
"His agent, Tony Matos, could take mounts for him on Saturday for Wednesday (Aug. 7), but he'll have to tell them (trainers) there's a chance a he won't be able to honor it, depending on how he tests," Sawyer said.
Stewards Tom Ward and Scott Chaney also presided over the hearing. Sawyer said they were impressed with Gomez for being so forthcoming about his problems.
"We give Garrett a lot of credit for pulling himself up by the bootstraps," she said.
Gomez, an alcoholic whose career has been marked by bouts with substance abuse, has not ridden since July 14, forgoing mounts he had been booked on from July 17-20 at Del Mar. He was fined $1,000 for not honoring those commitments.
He told stewards he began drinking again this summer. Gomez said he has been taking drugs for anxiety and depression, as well as for pain. He is also taking medication to help him detoxify, Sawyer said.
After meeting with stewards informally July 28, Gomez was drug-tested, and Sawyer said he was not within acceptable limits to return to riding. At Friday's hearing, he said he is reducing the level of anti-depressants he is taking in order to comply with the required limits.
Gomez, 41, said he has filed for divorce from his wife, Pamela, Sawyer said. The couple has two children.
He has signed an agreement with the Winner's Foundation, which helps individuals in the racing industry with alcohol and substance abuse. Sawyer said the organization's executive director, Bob Fletcher, spoke extensively on the direction Winner's Foundation hopes to take Gomez.
The rider said he sought counseling soon after he began drinking again and will undergo treatment with a psychiatrist to address mental health and nutrition issues.
Gomez, who was named the nation's outstanding rider in 2007 and 2008, first took off his mounts June 13 at Betfair Hollywood Park, saying he needed to work on his marriage and spend time with his family. He did not ride for the remainder of the month, but returned briefly from July 11-14 before again going AWOL.
Sawyer said Gomez requested that he be tested daily, which she said was highly unusual for a jockey with substance abuse issues.
"This kind of solidified for us the fact that he's trying to be a good person and do the right things," she said.
The jockey could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
Gomez served time in jail in 2003 for a drug-related conviction. He returned to riding in 2004 and soon became one of the sport's top riders. In 2007, Gomez broke Jerry Bailey's national record with 76 stakes victories, including two of his 13 career Breeders' Cup victories. He led the nation in purse earnings by a jockey for four consecutive years from 2006-09, and won the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2011.
He teamed up with author Rudolph Alvarado in May 2012 to write, The Garrett Gomez Story: A Jockey's Journey Through Addiction & Salvation.