Edited press release
John LeBlanc, who rode La Prevoyante, 1972 Canadian Horse of the Year, and Angle Light, Secretariat's entrymate in the 1973 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), was named the 2006 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award May 25.
"It is a great honor to be chosen to receive this award," said LeBlanc, whose family worked in Standardbred racing. "What makes it even more special is that I rode with Avelino Gomez for many years, and although we were competitors out on the racetrack, we became very good friends."
The award is given to Canadian-born, Canadian-raised, or regular riders in the country for more than five years who have made significant contributions to the sport.
Presented annually on Labatt Woodbine Oaks Day June 11 at Woodbine, the honor is in memory of Gomez, one of the sport's most heralded and revered performers. A native of Cuba, Gomez died of complications after a three-horse accident in the 1980 Canadian Oaks.
A replica of the life-sized Gomez statue in Woodbine's walking ring is presented to each year's honoree.
LeBlanc won his first race in 1961 aboard Flakwin at Thistledown Racetrack. He made 1,466 trips to the winner's circle during his career, which spanned from 1961 to 1990.
"I'm very proud," said LeBlanc's son, John Jr., a Woodbine-based trainer. "Not only of his many successes, but I especially remember the numerous injuries, comebacks, and the hard times that my father endured and overcame, and the courage he displayed, which has led to this great milestone."
The elder LeBlanc joined Windfields Farm in 1960, and a year later became an apprentice, campaigning in Ohio and at Montreal's Blue Bonnets. LeBlanc came to the OJC circuit (Woodbine, Greenwood, Fort Erie) to stay in 1963.
After retiring from competitive riding in 1990, LeBlanc kept his hand in the sport as a jockey's valet at the Toronto oval. Currently, he hot walks and serves as an assistant at his son's barn on the Woodbine backstretch.