Saratoga Race Course

Apprentice Gomez trying to put himself on fast track in Saratoga jockey colony

Apprentice rider Jose Gomez won the first race on last Friday's card at Saratoga on Lady Mine.

Apprentice rider Jose Gomez won the first race on last Friday's card at Saratoga on Lady Mine.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Well, that didn’t take long.

First race on Friday’s card, first race ever riding here, and jockey Jose Gomez scored his first victory ever at Saratoga Race Course.

He asked Lady Mine, 8-1 in the betting, to move to the front out of the starting gate, got in a duel with Maddie’s Grace to the inside that lasted until the quarter pole, then absorbed a challenge from Im Just Kiddin as Gomez kept his filly to the task all the way to the wire for a one-length victory.

It was just another maiden race for New York-bred 2-year-old fillies, not some big stakes race with a gigantic purse, but to the apprentice rider it represented another important step in his quick rise as an established jockey in New York and perhaps throughout the U.S. someday.

Gomez, a 21-year-old Michigan native whose mother and father barnstormed various racing circuits as a groom and exercise rider, respectively, is due to lose his apprentice status on Jan. 14 of next year, having blown through the early benchmarks in the process of becoming a journeyman.

In the meantime, he’s been busy carving out some business, with the help of legendary Hall of Famer Angel Cordero, Jr., as his agent, at Saratoga.

“It’s a dream come true, you know, winning at the Spa,” he said as he headed back to the star-studded jockeys room after his victory aboard Lady Mine.

Gomez, who had been working as an exercise rider, frequently on horses trained by Kelly Breen, was due to start his professional jockey career in January of 2021, but suffered a broken arm.

It was only a temporary setback.

He started up in June, and by Jan. 14 of this year, he had his fifth winner, on Frosted Wild Ride at Aqueduct, which meant that the weight allowance he could claim as an apprentice dropped from 10 pounds to seven.

He needed just 43 mounts to get those five winners.

With his win on Lady Mine at Saratoga, Gomez currently has 94 winners heading into Wednesday’s card, when he’s scheduled to ride five horses, a sign of robust business for a young rider.

By late March, he had passed the next important threshold, with his 40th career win to drop his bug (track jargon for apprentice) allowance from seven to five pounds.

He’ll continue to enjoy that advantage until a year from his fifth win.

Gomez is the only apprentice on the grounds, which makes him attractive to any trainer looking for a weight advantage.

The tradeoff is that Gomez is also by far the least experienced rider in the colony, but each passing day around this group can only make him better, while he also competes against them.

“Just being familiar with the riders, getting used to it, is important,” Gomez said. “Oh, it’s really hard here. It’s really hard, yes, sir. It’s real tough because the whole colony is full of top riders.

“Of course, my agent, Angel Cordero, has been helping me, but also a bunch of other riders, like Jose [Ortiz], Irad {Ortiz], Kendrick [Carmouche], they all give me advice on what to do and help me out.”

“A lot of bug boys aren’t as good about coming of the gate, but he is very good out of the gate,” Cordero told the New York Racing Association in February. “He’s good when he comes from behind and saves ground. Riding horses is like life – if you save money, you’ll have money; if you save ground, you’ll have horse. This young man is very smart, when he does something wrong, he knows.

“I took Eric Cancel to Saratoga as a bug boy one year and he did really well. That will open the door for him if he goes to Saratoga. People will ride him when they come back. Wherever he goes, he’s going to be a top rider.”

Because the Saratoga jockey colony is so deep, Gomez faces a stiff challenge not only on the track, but also simply getting good horses.

He’s more likely to be on a 20-1 shot than a 5-1, but his skill, determination and ever-broadening experience should serve him well, as he showed when he coaxed Lady Mine to the wire first last Friday.

“I knew my filly is pretty game,” he said. “Hopefully, it sets the tone. Keep winning and just keep trying hard.”


Now that trainer Juan C. Vazquez’s lengthy suspension by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission has taken effect, he is also banned from “participating in any New York State horse racing activity,” the New York State Gaming Commission announced on Monday.

Six horses have raced in Vazquez’s name at the Saratoga meet so far, including Surprise Boss, who was third in the Quick Call stakes on Sunday.

Vazquez is suspended in New York under the reciprocity rule that honors such penalties handed down in any of the other 37 racing jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada.

Besides the New York Racing Association tracks, Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, Vazquez can’t run horses at Finger Lakes for the duration of the suspension, which runs until Jan. 26, 2025.

On July 8, the Pennsylvania stewards fined Vazquez $5,000 and suspended him for more than 2 1/2 years, saying the owner/trainer was “grossly negligent, cruel, and abusive” in shipping the 5-year-old mare Shining Colors from Belmont to Parx on Jan. 6, after which Shining Colors had to be euthanized three days later due to laminitis.

Categories: At The Track, Sports

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