Garrett Gomez made a valiant effort to break the record for purse earnings in a year when he won with his first three mounts at Santa Anita Dec. 31. But in the one race he had to win, the $76,400 Kalookan Queen Handicap, the 2007 Eclipse Award-winning jockey finished third aboard Baroness Thatcher.
That left Gomez, who turns 37 on New Year's Day, with $23,344,351 in earnings, $10,609 short of the mark set in 2003 by Jerry Bailey of $23,354,960.
“If it was meant to be, it was meant to be," Gomez said afterward. "We were never looking at it until the Cash Call Mile (won aboard Pioneerof the Nile on Dec. 22). Next year, hopefully we won’t have to bring it down to the wire. Hopefully, we can do it the right way, but I have no regrets."
Gomez suffered three missing teeth, a gashed knee and a swollen and sore thumb in a frightening spill when his mount, Back At You, veered into the rail during the Eddie Logan Stakes for 2-year-olds Dec. 27. As a result of his injuries, he missed his assignments the following day, including the mount on Proudinsky, who earned $90,000 in winning the San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT).
"The fall the other day was unfortunate, but that’s part of our world," Gomez said. "I look at it this way -- it was time to get some new teeth anyway."
The gritty veteran returned Dec. 29 to ride two winners and narrow the gap with Bailey to $79,450.
On the final day of 2008, Gomez won the third race aboard Warren's Appeal by a neck, earning $18,000. Riding with abandon from far back, he returned to the winner's circle following the fifth and sixth races with Twin Turbo ($7,800) by a nose and Kyniska ($33,600) by a head. That left him still $19,681 short of the mark and in need of a win with his fourth and final ride in the next race.
Baroness Thatcher, the second choice in the field of seven at odds of 3-1, stalked in fifth over the Pro-Ride surface for the opening half-mile of the 6 1/2-furlong Kalookan Queen. She angled out in the homestretch to rally mildly, finishing 5 1/4 lengths behind the winner, Lovely Isle. The show was worth $9,072.
“I knew early on that she wasn’t comfortable," Gomez said. "Halfway up the backside, she was switching her leads and very uncomfortable. At that point, I had to resort to another plan and I took her down to the inside to see if she’d run better there. She ran a good race, a much better race than how she was acting at the half mile pole."
Gomez topped the North American leading jockeys’ earnings list for a third consecutive year in 2008. He rode the winners of 214 races from 1,023 mounts. Rafael Bejarano finished second with 266 wins from 1,290 mounts and earnings of $16,439,729.
"Every year feels like a blur," he said. All the success I’ve had the last three years, I really haven’t had a chance to reflect back on it much. We just keep going and I’ve got an agent (Ron Anderson) that puts me in these kinds of situations. I want a recount!”