It came down to the last race of the year at Santa Anita, and, in a bizarre turn of events, all Garrett Gomez needed was for his pick-up mount to come out of the gate Thursday in order for him to gain his fourth straight national purse money-won title.

Cenizo, the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the eighth race whom Gomez had acquired when Martin Pedroza “took off” three races earlier, was victorious as the 4-5 choice in the $18,000 maiden claimer. The win earned $10,800 for Gomez, who celebrates his 38th birthday today.

The result allowed Gomez to overtake Julien Leparoux by $10,606 in the money race with mount earnings of $18,571,171 for 2009. Leparoux had earned $18,560,565 before returning to his native France to be with his family for the Christmas holidays.

But when Gomez did little more than replace Pedroza while $194 shy of Leparoux’s lead, the title became all but a fait accompli. Cenizo would have earned a performance fee of $400 just for coming out of the starting gate.

Gomez joined Laffit Pincay Jr. (1971 through 1974) and Braulio Baeza (1965 through 1968) as riders to have won the money championship four consecutive years. Bill Shoemaker holds the record of seven successive years, 1958 through 1964.

“To have to go down to actually my last mount of the year is unreal,” Gomez said following his one-length win aboard Cenizo for trainer Julio Canani. “I was lucky enough to pick up the winner. I was hanging around the (jockeys’) room, hoping to pick up something, and Martin (Pedroza) didn’t feel well.”

Earlier, it seemed Gomez had been rebuffed in his title bid when his mount in the second race, Red Arrow, finished last among six starters in the featured $54,354 optional claiming event at 5 ½ furlongs, earning only the $400 performance fee.

Gomez’s only other scheduled mount was in the fourth race. And even though 6-5 choice Fund Raiser was a handy winner of the maiden special weight event, the first prize of $26,400 wasn’t quite enough to overcome the outcome of the second. He had fallen $194 short. Or so it seemed at the time.

In reflecting on his best moment of 2009, Gomez said, “It was probably the Woodbine Mile with Ventura. Her race at Woodbine was just phenomenal and at the time, Bobby Frankel (Ventura’s trainer, who died on Nov. 16) was very sick. Ron (agent Ron Anderson) called him, and said Bobby was very happy and that meant a lot to us. Earlier in the week, I had won on Champs Elysees for Bobby. It’s been a great year.”

Gomez expressed optimism for 2010. “I feel we can win the title again,” he said. “We’re on top of our game and we’ve got a lot of really good people supporting us. Some of our big horses have gone by the wayside, so Ron and I are looking to replace some of those horses. It’s a great position to be in.”

In an ultimate twist of irony, Gomez is staying at Leparoux’s residence in Monrovia while Garrett is having a home built in nearby Duarte.

“The funny thing is,” Anderson related, “Julien stayed at Garrett’s place after the Saratoga meet last summer.”


Lemon Chiffon shortens up for Sunday’s Grade III $100,000 Monrovia Handicap for older fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf. The 7-year-old mare is coming off three straight marathon turf events of 1 3/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/8 miles.

“She can run longer, but she loves this hillside course,” said trainer Sean McCarthy in explaining the move. “I freshened her up a little bit after she finished third in the Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs (Nov. 21). This looks like a nice spot to come back. She likes this course and I’m confident she’ll run well. She worked super here Wednesday (a half-mile on Pro-Ride in :47.60). She’s got a helluva shot to win it, to be honest with you.”

Lemon Chiffon, a chestnut daughter of Lemon Drop Kid, has a 4-1-3 record with earnings of $282,109 for owner Ron Beegle of Arcadia.

The field for the 43rd running of the Monrovia, which goes as the seventh of nine races: Czechers, Chantal Sutherland, 115; Queen Of the Catsle, Mike Smith, 119; Reba Is Tops, Joe Talamo, 117; Royal Taat, Joel Rosario, 115; Hermione’s Magic, Alex Solis, 114; Pasar Silbano, David Flores, 115; Lindelaan, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116; Tuscan Evening, Rafael Bejarano, 121; Lemon Chiffon, Tyler Baze, 118; Empressive Lady, Victor Espinoza, 114; and Lucky Copy, Garrett Gomez, 115.


Ron Valenta and Jack Carava ended 2009 on a successful note when To the Penny won Thursday’s third race. It marked the 49th victory of the year for owner Valenta and trainer Carava, who has conditioned horses exclusively for the La Caňada resident the past two years.

While it’s not a personal high for the 43-year-old Carava, it’s a significant achievement in a one-on-one business relationship.

“I’ve been training exclusively for Ron for two years, and 49 races are the most I ever won for him,” said Carava, a native of Arcadia. Valenta races as La Caňada Stables and watches his horses run at Santa Anita as often as possible. He and his wife, Lydia, also spend time in Austria, where they have a second home.

Carava’s personal one-year high for victories was 74 in 2001, when he operated a public stable. “Ron and I had a great year in 2009,” Carava said. “It started out really good. We had kind of a lull in the middle of the year, then finished up strong.

“We won a couple stakes early in the year, the Sunshine Millions Oaks with Beltene, and then the Potrero Grande with Soul City Slew. Working for one owner is terrific. You only have one person to answer to and that allows you to concentrate more on your horses. You don’t have to worry about additional phone calls and explanations.

“I don’t think training privately is good for everybody, but if you have the right person, it’s great.”

FINISH LINES: Sunday morning will be busy for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who is scheduled to work Blind Luck, Chocolate Candy, Rendezvous and She’s Phenomenal. Blind Luck, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, was a smashing winner of the Hollywood Starlet. She is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile on Feb. 6. Chocolate Candy, who last raced in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 7, is nominated to the Jan. 9 San Pasqual Handicap, while Rendezvous is scheduled to run in the San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 16. According to Hollendorfer top gun Dan Ward, She’s Phenomenal is pointing to the seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes on Jan. 16 . . . Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Friday in a bullet :57.80 for trainer Gary Stute . . . Bob Black Jack had his fourth breeze on the comeback trail Thursday at Hollywood Park, going four furlongs on Cushion Track in :48.40. “He’ll probably be ready to run in February,” trainer James Kasparoff said of Santa Anita’s track record holder for six furlongs (1:06.53). “I’ve got no major plans for him. He’s not running in the Sunshine Millions (Jan. 30). That’s out. I didn’t even nominate him. I’ll try to find a race for him. He has a condition left.” . . . Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip, who missed the Breeders’ Cup Classic due to a bruised foot, hopes to have better luck in 2010. “He started training again this week,” trainer Ron Ellis said. “He returned to the track the day after Christmas. He’s getting ready for the Mervyn LeRoy at Hollywood Park. He runs well there and we’re trying to put him on a schedule that will lead to the Breeders’ Cup (Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6).” . . . Track superintendent Richard Tedesco said the recent rain helped Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride main track. “The track’s been playing fair,” he said. “The moisture helped it.”