Walls to Receive Gomez Memorial Award

Honor is given to Canadian rider who has made significant contributions to the sport.

Jockey Mickey Walls was named recipient of this year's Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.

The honor is given to a Canadian-born, Canadian-raised, or regular rider in the country for more than five years who has made significant contributions to the sport.

Born June 1, 1974 in Vancouver, Walls was at one point one of the biggest names in Canadian Thoroughbred racing. He took the sport by storm in 1990 when he won 71 races in four months at Vancouver's Exhibition Park (now Hastings Park) at age 16.

He came east to Woodbine and continued to dominate the circuit, recording 41 wins in 23 days en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding apprentice jockey in 1990.

Walls' 1991 season ranks as one of the finest seasons any jockey has recorded on Canadian soil, winning a still-record 221 races in a single Woodbine meet at age 17.

Walls would go on to become the first jockey to win the Sovereign Award as both the country's top jockey and apprentice Jockey. He also collected the Eclipse Award as North America's top rookie that year.

Walls said he was humbled by the honor.

"When I was told I would be receiving this honor, I was floored," he said in a release. "It's a nice surprise. I'm truly honored."

Walls grew up learning about the sport from his parents, both trainers, and thus understands the impact of Gomez made on Woodbine and Canadian racing as a whole.

Walls was Woodbine's leading rider for a second time in 1993 before venturing south and competing at a high level at tracks across the United States. He returned to Canada in 1996 for the Breeders' Cup World Championships and had a huge year, winning 97 races.

Walls has won all three legs of Canada's Triple Crown. He captured the Queen's Plate in 1999 with Woodcarver, and the 1996 renewals of the Prince of Wales with Stephanotis and the Breeders' Stakes with Chief Bearhart. He also won the Woodbine (Canadian) Oaks in 1999 with Touch Dial.

"It would have been huge to win one classic race with Touch Dial, but to win the Plate with Woodcarver right after that was special," Walls said.

He retired in 2003 with 1,453 career wins (112 stakes victories), 1,212 seconds, 1,095 thirds, and nearly $3.74 million in purse earnings.

Presented annually on Woodbine Oaks day at Woodbine, the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award is in memory of 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.