Mickey Walls, one of Canada's greatest riding exports, was today named the 2013 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.
The coveted Gomez Award is given to the person, Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or regular rider in the country for more than five years, who has made significant contributions to the sport.
Born June 1, 1974 in Vancouver, Walls was at one point, arguably, the biggest name in Canadian Thoroughbred racing. He took the sport by storm in 1990 when he won 71 races in four months at Vancouver's Exhibition Park (now Hastings Park) at 16 years old.
He came east to Woodbine and continued to dominate, recording 41 wins in 23 dates en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 1990.
His 1991 season ranks as, perhaps, the finest season any jockey has ever recorded on Canadian soil, winning a still-record 221 races in one Woodbine meet, as a 17-year-old.
Walls would go on to be the first jockey to win the Sovereign as both the country's top Jockey and Apprentice Jockey. He also collected the Eclipse Award as North America's top rookie that year.
Walls is humbled by the honour.
“When I was told I would be receiving this honour, I was floored,” Walls said. “It's a nice surprise. I'm truly honoured.”
Walls has grown up around the sport, and understands the impact of Gomez around Woodbine and Canadian racing as a whole through his training parents, Joe and Carol.
“My Mom and Dad knew who Gomez was from all the big races he would ride,” Walls said. “He was a big rider, who rode in big races and was well known out west.”
Walls was Woodbine's leading rider, for a second time, in 1993, before venturing south and competing at a high level at tracks across the United States. He returned to Canada in 1996 for the Breeders' Cup and had a huge year, winning 97 races.
Walls does also have a career Triple Crown, winning the Queen's Plate in 1999 with Woodcarver, and the 1996 renewals of the Prince of Wales with Stephanotis and the Breeders' Stakes with Chief Bearhart. He also won the Woodbine (Canadian) Oaks in 1999 with Touch Dial.
“It would have been huge to win one classic race, with Touch Dial, but to win the Plate with Woodcarver right after that, was special,” Walls said.
Riding in native Vancouver, at Exhibition Park, was critical to his career success.
“I wouldn't have had the success I did in my career if I didn't ride there,” Walls said, of the now-Hastings Park. “It was the best learning experience to ride on “bullring” track like that. It made it easier to ride on the bigger tracks with sweeping turns like Woodbine.”
He retired in 2003 with 1,453 career wins (112 stakes victories), 1,212 seconds, 1,094 thirds and over $37 million in purse earnings.
Presented annually on Woodbine Oaks day at Woodbine (June 9 in 2013), the honour is in memory of one of the sport's most heralded and revered performers. The Cuban-born Gomez died of complications after a three-horse accident in the 1980 Canadian Oaks.
As a lasting reminder of his contributions, a life-size statue of Gomez, who called Toronto home and raised a family there, proudly overlooks Woodbine's pristine walking ring. A replica is presented to each year's honouree.
Walls joins Ron Turcotte, Johnny Longden, Sandy Hawley, Don MacBeth, Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, Jim McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, Robert Landry, Francine Villeneuve, Sam Krasner, John LeBlanc Sr., George Ho Sang, Jack Lauzon, Robert King Jr., Stewart Elliott, Emile Ramsammy and last year's recipient, Steven Bahen, as Gomez honourees.
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