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Gomez in top form on eve of 41st birthday

Garrett Gomez won at a 30 percent clip at the Hollywood meet (Benoit Photos)
Anyone who doesn't believe Garrett Gomez has been to hell and back should read his book, "The Garrett Gomez Story: A Jockey's Journey Through Addiction & Salvation," in which the Tucson native describes his lengthy battles with alcohol and drug addiction, and his ultimate recovery.

Today, Gomez is at the top of his profession, a world-class jockey who celebrates his 41st birthday on New Year's Day. He is coming off a quietly sensational Hollywood Park meet, where he finished in a tie for fourth with 20 victories from just 67 mounts, but sported a sparkling 30 percent winning average.

He is riding like Eddie Delahoussaye reincarnate, since many of his victories have come from well off the pace, a la Eddie D. in his heyday. It is not necessarily by design.

"I just try to read my horses," Gomez said. "I try and let them be as comfortable as they can and make them happy. I'm one of those guys who feels I can get one to finish as fast as most of them start. As long as they're happy and traveling well at the beginning of a race, you'll have a happy horse at the end of a race. I'm a big believer in getting a horse to be happy. If you've got a happy horse, it will be willing to perform for you."

Sometimes it's not as easy as all that.

"If you have a horse that wants to do a lot early, and you can't get it to relax, more than likely it's not going to really finish all that well," Gomez said. "But if the horse leaves there (starting gate) real quiet and relaxes and the pace is soft enough, you can always move a horse forward throughout a race. If the pace is slow, you can put it in a little better spot. I don't know if my winning from behind has anything to do with the track or anything like that. I think I've been on the right horses lately."

Credit for that would go in large part to his agent, veteran Tony Matos, who also represents Alonso Quinonez.

Being comfortable on the home front is significant in Garrett's personal contentment.

"There's not a lot of traveling going on, and I get to see my kids and my wife every day," Gomez said. "I have some sort of a life now and I'm enjoying it."

Julien Leparoux is another top jock pleased with a reduction in his frequent flier mileage.

Married earlier this month to trainer Mike Mitchell's daughter, Shea, the 29-year-old Leparoux moved his base of operations from the East Coast to Southern California as a familial accommodation.

"It feels good to be here as a regular," Leparoux said. "It's like beginning a new life, really. I'm able to stay in one place; it's very exciting."

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