By Steve Schuelein and Bill Heller
Fatefully brought together on a late October afternoon at Belmont Park in 2005, jockeys Garrett Gomez and Richard Migliore’s lives became intertwined. Gomez was replacing the injured Migliore on Artie Schiller in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Mile a year after Migliore had ridden the horse despite a separate serious injury in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Lone Star Park.
Artie Schiller lacked room the entire way in the 2004 Mile under Migliore, who had been injured two days before the race, and finished 12th as the betting favorite in the field of 14. The next day, the Mig would discover he had ridden with a broken wrist.
In 2005, Migliore suffered a broken leg and injured his Achilles tendon nine days before the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and New York trainer Jimmy Jerkens reached out to California-based Gomez to fill the absence. Artie Schiller won the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Gomez’s second Cup winner that afternoon, earning the Bill Shoemaker Breeders’ Cup Riding Award just three years after he completed rehab, having conquered his substance abuse problem which earned him 40 days in jail.
Migliore, who was the 16th all-time leading rider in earnings and 33rd in victories, watched the 2005 Mile on TV in the Jockey’s Room with an old friend, retired jockey, Eddie Maple. If watching another rider win a Breeders’ Cup race on his horse wasn’t painful enough, and NBC television analyst said that Migliore had left the track before the race and had gone home. Maple turned to Migliore and asked, “You did?”
The experience would leave Migliore “emotionally disemboweled”, his wife, Carmela said.
Gomez parlayed his Breeders’ Cup success into a sensational 2006, moving to New York after John Velazquez was injured and trainer Todd Pletcher gave him first call that April. Gomez did even better in 2007, breaking the record for stakes victories in a single year to earn his first Eclipse Award at the age of 35.
The Mig, who had won the 1981 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice and twice been leading rider for the year in New York, was out for 4½ months with his broken leg and tendon injury, and when he returned in early March of 2006, he struggled to regain his business in New York. Trainers who had been using him regularly stopped using him.
So Migliore took the biggest gamble of his life: he moved back to California, where he would be represented by agent Ron Anderson, the man who also represented Gomez. The Mig had a phenomenal first year in California – finishing fourth in the Santa Anita 2006-2007 winter meet, and winning Grade 1 stakes with Kip Deville, Dixie Chatter, and Student Council, who captured both the $1 million in 2007 Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar and the Grade 2 $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup. Migliore said, “I’m getting a chance to prove to people what I’m capable of doing.”
Again, just like Gomez.
What does a jockey want for an encore after leading the nation with personal bests in earnings and stakes victories?
In the case of Garrett Gomez, more.
Nicknamed “Go Go” for the first syllable of his last name, and a work ethic to advance, Gomez is on the roll of his life after $23.8 million in purse earnings and a record 76 stakes victories – 42 of them graded – in 2007.
Gomez raised the bar to rarefied heights, but he strives to add several more coveted prizes to his glittering resume. “You have goals to keep you driving forward”, he said.
“Winning the Shoemaker is like being named MVP of the Super Bowl, and it’s in honor of Bill Shoemaker.”
And despite Gomez’s accomplishments and prestigious winnings, nearly too many to count, he does not rest. “A jockey’s career is not a long career, and you have to take full advantage of the opportunities when they come up. That may mean traveling coast to coast. Travel is hard on anybody, but like anything in life, you get used to it.”
And even though it can be emotional and grueling work, Gomez remains grateful for the opportunities that each day offers. He remembers where he came from, and continues to look ahead, heaven on the horizon.