For His Strength, Record, Garrett Gomez Deserves Hall Of Fame

by | 03.14.2017 | 11:40am
Gomez won back-to-back Eclipse Awards in 2008-09
Gomez won back-to-back Eclipse Awards in 2008-09

If Garrett Gomez had cancer, he'd already be in the Hall of Fame.

But because he suffered from addiction, a disease most people don't understand and one that many refuse to even acknowledge, a majority of Hall of Fame voters since 2011 have been weighing the two-time Eclipse Award-winning rider's perceived moral weakness instead of his remarkable skills and undeniable accomplishments.

I say this as an addict who, like Gomez, could have died, isolated in a hotel room somewhere with a cache of drugs pulsing through the bloodstream to the point that the heart can no longer function. One who, at least in the present, is in recovery from this chronic and progressive disease of the brain that short-circuits the decision-making process.

It saddened me when Gomez, who was a role model for many recovering addicts for more than a decade, relapsed in 2013 and drifted toward isolation, a terrible destination for any addict. I was angry but not really surprised when I received a phone call the evening of Dec. 14, 2016, telling me Gomez was found dead at the age of 44. A coroner's report said methamphetamines, cocaine, morphine and marijuana were in his system.


There but for the grace of God go I and millions of others who have struggled or are struggling with addiction.

This is the end game: it's what the disease is doing to the unemployed coal miner in eastern Kentucky, the suburban housewife near Philadelphia, the farmer's son in central Ohio, the retired jockey in Arizona. In West Virginia, the addiction epidemic has reached a point where funeral homes can't keep up with the dead bodies. The drugs may vary, but the disease is the same. Like cancer, addiction is a curse.

For 10 glorious years – from the time he got out of jail and a treatment center in 2003 until his relapse in 2013 – Garrett Gomez won the battle against this disease. He rode like a magician, every decision seeming to be the right one. He carried tired horses to the finish line in front like no one I've seen since Laffit Pincay Jr.

Gomez earned four consecutive national money titles, from 2006-'09, won 76 stakes races in a single year, rode 13 Breeders' Cup winners in eight years, earning the Bill Shoemaker Award four times as top jockey at the Breeders' Cup.

That he was able to scale those heights while battling a disease is a sign of incredible strength, not weakness. Just imagine what a healthy Garrett Gomez would have accomplished were the first 15 years of his career not plagued with alcohol and substance abuse, had he ridden off into the sunset on his terms and not those of the disease that ultimately took his life?

For the sixth time in the last seven years, voters will consider whether Garrett Gomez deserves to have a plaque hanging inside the National Museum of Racing alongside the sport's other notable jockeys, trainers and horses. To me, the answer is obvious: Garrett Gomez belongs in the Hall of Fame.

  • Michael Castellano

    I agree 100% with you, Ray.

  • Jbumi

    If that’s the reason GoGo hasn’t made it into the HOF yet, then that’s awful. Sad to say, now that he’s passed away he’ll most likely get in (Chris Antley’s in). We have to start seeing addiction, mental illness (the “just buck up” mentality has to go) & ALL cancers (you see all these walkathons for this or that cancer – when was the last time you saw one for lung cancer?!) equally for the terrible diseases they are instead of placing antiquated value judgments on them.

    • Eric

      Rags to Riches only raced 7 times. There is no rule that specifically states that a horse has to run a certain number of times to be eligible, but scanning through the inductees, I don’t see any horses that raced less than 10 times, and I think her career may have been too short to be seriously considered.

      Patrick Valenzuela is not in the HOF either. His accomplishments are seemingly endless, and his riding talent (in his peak years) has never been questioned. I don’t thnk the public view’s Valenzuela’s repeated missteps with the same empathy and understanding that is reserved for Garrett Gomez. I am not sure why there is a double standard there – when clean, both riders possessed engaging, likeable personalities. I do think both Gomez and P Val will someday get in.

      • Jbumi

        Well, Genuine Risk & Winning Colors are in the HOF, & while they have more overall wins (since both ran in at least twice as many races) neither has as many Grade 1 wins (Risk won 2; Colors won 3; Rags had 4!). Additionally, Rags is still the only filly to win the Belmont since 1905.

      • gus stewart

        Not a double standard, i like pat very much, a friend of his for many years, but pat tried to hide his addiction, and worked the system to his advantage because of his like ability. I mean pats a great guy and also deserves to be in hof, but his playing the system hurt his reputation.

      • dan gable

        P Vial will never get in, nor should he. Habitual offender who gamed the system. Too bad because he could have been the best ever. As for Gomez, he belongs. IMO one of the top 10 jocks I’ve seen in 50 years of racing, from Shoemaker to Castellano.

    • Judoon

      Running only seven times is not enough for Rags. Way too short a career.

      • Jbumi

        There are already two horses in the HOF that only had seven starts – Sir Archy & Lexington.

  • ryan driscoll

    Well said Ray. As a 25 year employee of ThoroGraph, I’ve watched a lot of races, usually several times. Garrett, in my opinion, was the best rider that I’ve ever witnessed. A HOF rider who had a HOF career.

    • C Hogan

      Great job Ray. Garrett Gomez going to HOF on first ballot because he is one of the best race riders ever.

      • Douglas Amos

        Stopped by Sunland in the late 90’s when Garrett’s career assuredly seemed over. He appeared to be 1 of the saddest people on the planet. Absolutely, for his comeback alone besides probably the greatest Travers ever and his day in day out consistency.

  • R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    Bravo Ray for speaking the truth about addiction. Unfortunately, so many people to this day do not understand how it can overtake a person. Yet, that real person and their talents is still there underneath the horrors of it all. Garrett Gomez made his mark in racing and definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  • mike

    Every Cancer patient I know is fighting for their life while the drug people seem to be on a vicarious thrill very hard for me to understand.

    • Chris

      It appears you’ve never been an addict.

    • Flying J

      Mike, I hear you. I’m not without sympathy for a person suffering from addiction, there are many routes to that condition. Mr. Gomez undoubtedly suffered a great deal from pain related to his occupational injuries. It may have simply began with prescriptions to allow him some relief The pain these brave souls face from injury is horrific. I can understand how things can go swiftly and wildly out of ones control. Having said that, I’ll tell you that my brother died at 45 years of age from lymphoma. I’ve another family member who is addicted to heroin. She has never suffered from the slightest injury or never known

      any pain.

      She CHOSE to take various medications including oxycontin stolen or illegally obtained simply in search of a a good time. It does make me bitter as this person made a conscious decision to take these drugs for no good reason at all. Hers was a choice, not an illness ie: addiction. Unlike my brother, who had no choice, and was struck by a deadly disease. My heart aches for the loss of my young brother. I hope Mr.Garrett has at last found peace. I celebrate his life and achievements, which speak for themselves.

      • mike

        Very well said!

      • secondlife

        While some of them may not have any physical injuries, from what I have seen most addicts have a past history of abuse or trauma & use drugs to dull their mental torment. What starts out as a bad personal choice turns into a medical addiction. People who have mental illness problems need access to better help & maybe they would never become addicts.

        • Flying J

          I call BS on this in many cases. My addicted relative was, and is, an important and cherished family member. Loved, brought up well in a loving environment, she chose to do drugs. Her choice. CHOICE. I do not mean to dimish the sufferings of those who deal with mental health issues or suffer abuse. As I said, there are many paths to addiction, but there are cases, many of them, that are due to simple Bad choices and lack of personal responsibility. My niece is recovering , God bless her, I pray for a long and healthy life for her, and all the joys life can bring, but she and she alone is responsible for the path she chose.

          • Arrogate

            I hope you get all the way through this life with that mantra and it never bites you in the arse.

          • Flying J

            Whatever.

          • Arrogate

            I’d say Gomez paid the heaviest price one can pay and so did his family. Which has nothing to do with whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He does. Hope that high horse you ride doesn’t send you flying.

          • Flying J

            I agree , he does belong in the hall fame. Not because of, or in spite of, his addiction, but because he was one of the best ever to ride a horse. Peace.

    • Mr J

      Judgemental cuccaraca

  • Tinky

    Brilliant and poignant essay.

  • Shahrokh Saidi

    Doctors used to think these pain killers help so they gave it to those with pain and nerve problems
    I was taking them till they found out it was my neck not shoulder
    I got hurt riding horses I know the type of pain
    Garret Gomez was going through .
    With new ways of surgery they fixed me so now
    The pain is less so I can deal with it
    Garry Stevens went through surgeries in his knee
    And hip at age 53 or 54
    When you are young it seems ok to take medicine and go ride as you get older it gets to a point you can’t go on,
    I wish Garret Gomes was our age he would have been doing things different if he was over 50
    Too bad we lost a great man and one of the best jockeys in the Land .
    To Us Horse racing fans he is a HAL OF FAME
    Jockey .
    Those who decide who is and who isn’t have to know when history will always talk about how
    ZENNYATA ended his 19 consecutive wins .
    As great as Zenyatta was with Hall of fame jockey Mike smith aborted it was the ride go go
    Garret Gomez gave to BLAME to win a race
    No one thought was possible except
    Garret Gomes and his fans.
    It is time to put one of the best jockeys in the world of our sport to join those who already are.

  • Shahrokh Saidi

    Garret Gomez gave his life to our sport of horse racing.
    It was Pain that got him to take Medison .
    Doctors gave him those Medisons.
    Time for you to do your part
    Put his name where it belongs
    HALL OF FAME

  • Jack

    https://www.racingmuseum.org/hall-of-fame/jockeys

    Set the range 1990-2016
    Personal issues aside. Against his contemporaries he belongs.

  • cgriff

    I agree 1,000 %. Gomez is the epitomy of a Shakespearian heroic model – granted many gifts physically and mentally to be a the top of his chosen profession, but one fatal flaw ultimately could not be overcome. He is totally worthy of the honor and I really hope he is voted in.

  • Slewanyou

    I agree with this article. He was relentless in his pursuit of the finish line.

  • Elena Gonzales

    WELL SAID I TO WAS ADDICT TO DRUG TO THE POINT GET PREGNANT OR DIE AND AM BEEN CLEAN FOR 22 YRS AND I BELIEVE GARRET DESERVE IT PEOPLE NEED TO LOOK AT WHAT HE DID OUT IN THE TRACK NOT AT THE BAD BUT THE GOOD

  • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

    GoGo was one of the greatest riders of his time. His induction into the HOF is long overdue.

  • pinky

    Thank you for this Ray. Garrett’s George Woolf award is testimony to his character when he was riding. His choice to end his career and isolate himself was no doubt partly to spare his fellow riders, trainers, friends and fans. So I’m hoping the HOF “judges” will not take the knee-jerk judgmental route. – From a fellow traveler.

  • Brent Burns

    Beautifully said. Thank you for writing this very heartfelt piece and tribute to GG, who most certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  • Gate To Wire

    A very well written piece and some great comments below but I am going to be in the minority here and disagree.
    It’s my belief that the Hall of Fame should be reserved for not only the truly talented but the individuals with the highest moral character.
    This won’t be a popular opinion but I believe that Gomez’s struggles, his many gaps in riding and his quick departure from the game should preclude him from being in the Hall of Fame.

    He was a fantastic rider and an unbelievable talent but I don’t don’t believe that his ability, his accomplishments on the track coupled with his issues off the track and his departure from racing make him Hall of Fame worthy.

    • nicehorsey

      You are still confusing morality and illness. Addition is a constant battle. His morality is not in question here.

    • wjfraz

      If morals, ethics and other attributes you believe necessary for anyone to have to be in the Hall of Fame, no one would be there. You set too high a bar that perhaps one as moral and ethical as yourself might not be able to reach. Best hope you aren’t judged as harshly as you yourself judge people. Having been around addicted people, I know how hard it is to beat and I also know that not many succeed as well as Garrett did with the devils who were fighting him daily. Many of the jockeys, trainers and owners in the HOF had addictions as well as other immoral or unethical behaviors that would have precluded them on your high moral value steeple. Jockeys have abused women, been drunks, outright bums and trainers and owners have as well. If you took people out of consideration because of events or immoral activities in their personal lives, no one would be able to be even considered.

    • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

      What is your definition of “the highest moral character?” And how many current members of the HOF would pass muster under your definition? Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Kent Desormeaux, Chris Antley and many other inductees have battled alcohol or drug problems. Are they worthy of the HOF?

      • rpres43

        Ray,very insightful article. I admire you for your very open admission of your struggles, and wish you the courage and strength to carry on. I’ve been around a long time, and I think Garret rates up with the best I’ve ever seen.

  • Ty Wyant

    Amen.

  • gus stewart

    Many of celebrated athletes have got into the hof in other sports with addictions that were not documented. Also there are a few currently working as commentators and making a great salaries and still getting endorsements. Garrett’s was a tremendous athlete and tremendous rider and kind to others in what i have been told.. so yes im on board with this vote. He had his demons, but overall he deserves the place in hof

  • Michael Castellano

    I recall after the Breeder’s Cup tragedy and break down of Go For Wand, who literally gave it her all trying to win before breaking down in sight of the wire. In tears after the race, one of the owners said words to the effect “They give their lives for our entertainment.” The same can be said for many jockeys. We should never take either for granted.

    • Bryan Langlois

      It was the wife of Ron McNally who said that on NBC. I remember the quote to this day. “They give their lives for enjoyment and pleasure….and to have something like this happen is such a tragedy” That interview showed you really what love these people have for the sport and the horses. He just won a million dollar race and was in tears over what happened.

  • Warren Burrowes

    well said!

  • John Campopiano

    Couldn’t agree more! Beautifully written, Ray.

  • Casey Phillips

    Amen, Ray. GoGo was a superb jockey, a loving father and a great horseman.

  • David Worley

    Truly fantastic essay in which I whole heartedly agree. I also appreciate Ray’s courage and vulnerability in articulating his own struggles in the piece.

  • 1fdoos

    So well stated

  • RF

    Also having received the gift of recovery( yes,the gift), it is a shock to me the opening statement can even be made in 2017.
    If there were only 10 riders allowed in HOF, Garrett Gomez would be on my list. I don’t think there has ever been a rider who accomplished so much in a 10 year period. Best tactical rider since Cordero, strong as Pincay. He understood how races ran, could put them in a position to win, and carry them home. A thing of beauty.
    That he is not in already is terrible . To get in now would be great. Having said that, there were many sadder things in GGs life than not getting in HOF

  • Melann Johnston

    It is really sad that he can’t be remembered for the great rider he was. Instead people will remember him by the way he died. I was talking with a friend about Chris Antley and she mentioned Garrett I said “Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up dying that way” I was just in tears when I heard that that came true. What a great person he was and I pray for his kids and family everyday.

    I hope that Garrett does make it into the Hall of Fame he so deserves it. He was one of the best jockeys out there.

  • Arrogate

    You’re clearly addicted to exclamation points.

  • Mr J

    What have you done noteworthy in life

  • Bev

    He has accomplished SO much and worked too hard to be ignored. That can’t be erased or forgotten. Of course he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He accomplished all that he did while fighting the battle of his life. He was the BEST rider and took care of his horses. It’s so sad how it ended. He is missed terribly by us all.

  • john

    13 Breeders Cup wins is no small feat….that alone should get him in!!!

  • Charles Smith

    God bless you, Ray. By laying bare your own struggle, you’ve enlighted the rest of us. It takes real courage to open up that way. You are spot on about Go Go. He is certainly worthy of HOF induction, and I sincerely hope he gets in this year.

  • Parman

    I agree he was a great rider.Strong finisher that knew when to push the button.Garrett and Bobby Frankel were a pair you always had to look at.Short or long,turf or dirt Garrett could do it all.

  • Thank you, Ray, for honoring Garrett and including your own battles in the article as well. The world needs more empathy and compassion like yours.

  • theosmachine

    Gomez is the best jockey I ever saw. Easy Hall of Famer.

    Thanks Ray for an important topic that needs to be heard.

  • snowchrome

    It becomes a disease after taking it as painkiller for a long time. Jockeys do get injured. It’s a occupational hazard. And the injuries they sustain may have lingering pain for the rest of their lives. They get back into the saddle cause they need to pay the bills. Have you ever had severe pain and need to take something to make it go away? They get used to taking the painkillers after a period of time. It becomes part of them. That’s why we need better reach out programs and rehab treatments to combat this disease.

  • snowchrome

    Garrett Gomez could get any horse to win. I was at Santa Anita in December 2007 and Gomez was on a seconditis horse called James the Third. I think the horse was 0 for 17 before this. All the other jockeys couldn’t get this horse to win. But GoGo gets in the saddle does his magic and gets this horse to the winner’s circle. It was awesome to see what he could do. Garrett Gomez is the best jockey I have ever seen and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  • Carole Gatti

    Dear Ray – beautifully written – Garrett should be judged on his tremendous riding accomplishments not on his human foibles.

  • Karl Bittner

    Very well stated. I think of him often.

  • Kathy Young

    Ray, you are not alone in your belief that about Garrett Gomez belongs in the Hall of Fame. You are also not alone as a recovering addict (my “drug of choice” was alcohol; I am sober almost 40 years now, but it is one day at a time. You speak volumes to those who have shared our lives with the “monkey.” Thumbs up for overcoming your addiction and to the sentiment of your words. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the least the industry can do for someone as talented as Garrett Gomez.

  • whirlaway

    Absolutely Ray, Garrett belongs in the hall of fame he was a phenomenal rider.

  • Leonard

    Amen…. Very nice write up Ray. I totally agree

  • surfola

    Every time Garrett rode a horse I played it. Definitely deserves the hall.

  • albert

    I agree this is important award its available in all sports sometimes an athlete can be turned down because of many reasons why I’ve looked at other sports athletes that were eliminated cause of certain issues and seen some with a star next to there numbers for some reason or another meaning horses in the past have been disqualified for what reason you tell me

  • Conservative_Hispanic

    Very compelling article about a terrific jockey. Well done Ray. Addiction is very misunderstood and it amazes me to this day that even with the progress we as a people have made…a too-large percentage of us view addiction as a product of weak will.
    RIP Garrett and thank you for your honesty Ray.

  • Terri Z

    Thank you Ray for speaking up for Go Go and I am sure he is smiling down on you and his beloved family and horses.
    The Hall of Fame needs to open it’s doors to another great Hall of Famer and recovering alcoholic: Billy Turner. It’s a disgrace that the trainer of Seattle Slew has to eek out a meager living and is not in the Hall of Fame. Shame on them; how dare they exclude such talented horsemen like Gomez and Turner from what is rightfully theirs’s.

  • sgvoak

    Thank you so much for this. So much. AS a Gomez superfan i hope so much his day of glory for his children to come soon. Anyone who followed west coast racing for the last 15 years knows gomez was the king and showed the way for bejarano and rosario

  • xclaim

    Go Go was one of the greatest. I still can’t believe he is not riding let alone not alive. I kept waiting for an announcement that he was returning to racing after his struggles during that strange summer at Delmar when he started to not show up in more ways than one. Somehow I think when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown it must have hurt Garrett in some way because I have to believe that Garrett might have got the ride over Victor when Pharoah needed a new rider after losing his maiden at Delmar. It must have been tough in a way for him to see those elusive classic races slip away. I thought it wasn’t a coincidence that Garrett announced his retirement a few days after American Pharoah won the Belmont and Triple Crown. The classics were the only thing missing from his Hall of Fame Career. Personally, I miss his riding enough that I don’t play the game so much. Garret was a superstar. Thanks for the article Ray.

  • Kathy Baldwin

    I vote for GoGo! ;) As you said, Ray, he should already be in the Hall of Fame. Thank you for this post, as well. It is well said and well explained. God bless everyone in the land of horse racing. :)

  • Mu Shi Christensen

    Of course he should be in HOF. His accomplishments put him there.

  • Michael Keller

    I agree — absolutely — that Garrett should be in the Hall of Fame. While my comments should end there because I am definitive and confident in my opinion, I see people bringing up various points, issues, opinions, etc. My feeling that Garrett should be in the Hall of Fame is without question in my mind. That said, the only — and I stress only — point of discussion or contention would be his disease, and certain things related to that. Personally, I don’t think it is a discussion or point of contention.

    First, drug addiction is in fact a disease. Some still confuse and/or collapse that with some sort of moral or character flaw, however, that is — in my opinion incorrect. This being a disease makes the moral or character discussion a separate and distinct issue. Thus, anything related to that is a fallacious argument in my mind. Second, while there has long been a debate about on vs. off track/field/etc., and one’s “conduct” (vis a vis Pete Rose, Mark McGuire, and others), we are not discussing those athletes, other sports, etc.

    Second, there are plenty of Hall of Fame members who have faced similar trials and tribulations with addiction — some publicly known, others not. Regardless, where do we draw the line? Jail? DWI? One? Two? Completely on-track record? Days missed? Due to legitimate sickness vs. not legitimate, hungover, heading to rehab, etc.? This is BS. I feel I give this argument even the slightest amount of credibility by even mentioning Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, and Chris Antley — because I don’t even think this should even be a discussion. Garrett Gomez deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

    • Gotchagold

      Very well said sir. I agree !00%. I just wish my vote counted.
      RIP Hall of Fame Jockey Garrett Gomez.

  • DeePet

    Agreed!

  • BreakingDeadMen

    Agreed all the way. P Val also. At their best, as good as any I ever saw.

  • Bill Casner

    I absolutely agree. GoGo rode to win every time and was one of the best of all time. His ride on Colonel John in the Travers was epic and was typical of his 100% commitment to win each and every time whether it was a BC race or a cheap claimer.
    He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

  • md reynolds

    thank you, Ray, for your honesty. Gomez was the first jockey I loved and I kept thinking he’d be back….it was a blow. But, his accomplishments are concrete…He was an incredible jockey who was at the peak of our sport for many glorious years and was one our best ambassadors. He must get in this year!

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