Former jockey John LeBlanc received the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award in a trackside ceremony on Sunday afternoon at Woodbine. LeBlanc, who teamed with La Prevoyante, Canada's Horse of the Year in 1972, and Angle Light, Secretariat's entrymate in the 1973 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), was joined by family, friends and fellow riders. Jacqui Gomez, daughter of Avelino Gomez, presented the statue to the man who won 1,466 career races."It's my privilege, on behalf of my family, to present this year's Avelino Gomez Memorial Award to John LeBlanc, a jockey who rode with my father and was friends with my father," said Gomez, during the ceremony.The Gomez award is given annually to a Canadian rider who has made significant contributions to the sport. "What makes it even more special is that I rode with Avelino for many years, and although we were competitors on the racetrack, we became very good friends," said LeBlanc, who assists his son, trainer John Jr., in his barn on the Toronto oval backstretch. "I would like to thank all the owners and trainers that helped me achieve my goals."LeBlanc, the 22nd rider to receive the honor, also partnered stalwarts Glorious Song and Kennedy Road throughout his career in the irons. Born in New Brunswick in 1939, LeBlanc, who rode his first winner in 1961 aboard Flakwin at Thistledown in Ohio, got to know Gomez well during their racing days.The award is presented in memory of Gomez, one of North America's most prolific and personable jockeys. Gomez, or "El Perfecto" as he was known by racing fans, died of complications after a three-horse accident during the running of the Canadian Oaks in 1980.
A life-size statue of the Cuban-born Gomez, who settled in Toronto and raised a family in the city, is located above the Woodbine walking ring. A replica is presented to each year's winner.LeBlanc joins Ron Turcotte, the late John Longden, Sandy Hawley, the late Don MacBeth, the late Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, James McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, Robert Landry, Francine Villeneuve and Sam Krasner, last year's recipient, as Gomez honorees.