Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Humberto Gomez More Than Just An Exercise Rider To The Stars - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Humberto Gomez More Than Just An Exercise Rider To The Stars

Humberto Gomez aboard Triple Crown winner Justify

It is impossible to imagine that any exercise rider can match the resume Mexico City native Humberto Gomez has built since he arrived in the United States in 2000.

He learned the importance of keeping his mount in rhythm from trainer Bobby Frankel. John Shirreffs' emphasis on patience was somewhat offset by Julio Canani's aggressiveness. Doug O'Neill stressed the importance of a positive attitude and teamwork.

Bob Baffert then hired Gomez and allowed him to put all of that together in 2018. He entrusted him with Justify and the rider who is widely known as “Beto” helped him develop an unraced 2-year-old into an undefeated Triple Crown champion.

Gomez emerged as the successor to the great Dana Barnes in Baffert's phenomenal stable, helping quirky Authentic to mature in time to win the pandemic-delayed Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic last year.

Gomez's heroic handiwork on the ground in 2017 is as impressive as anything he has accomplished on horseback. Trainer Kristin Mulhall credits him with saving the life of a 4-month-old Thoroughbred that was seemingly taking its last breaths after swallowing a black widow spider.

Mulhall, receiving phone instructions from veterinarian Melinda Blue, was attempting to perform an emergency tracheotomy using a dull box cutter and a syringe casing for a tube. She was in despair when Gomez arrived. She looked into the flailing horse's eyes and saw imminent death.

“You couldn't even see his pupils,” Mulhall said. “His eyes were bloodshot and cloudy. I thought 'Well, if he can't get enough oxygen, he's probably brain dead.'“

When she told Gomez as much, he refused to give up. He jumped on top of the foal, doing everything he could to hold down its head and feet.

“Try again!” he implored Mulhall. “Try again!”

Her third attempt was the charm. She finally succeeded at cutting an adequate hole in the trachea and suturing the tube into place using dental floss.

“The minute she put the tube, the horse took a lot of air,” Gomez said. “That gave us a lot of hope.”

Humberto Gomez on horseback off the track

Gomez and a friend dragged the horse into a trailer. Gomez continued to hold down the foal as he was rushed to Chino Hills Equine Hospital, where he began a full recovery.

Mulhall thanked Gomez by inviting him to name the California-bred. Gomez thought back to Catemaco, a horse he rode in Mexico City that displayed a huge heart every time he raced. Mulhall quickly embraced the name, which was approved.

Mulhall will be forever grateful to Gomez. “He pushed me to try because I gave up,” she said.

For Gomez, 44, his job is so much more than a job. “I just love what I do,” he said. “I have a passion for racing.”

That passion, combined with expertise gained through exposure to so many prominent trainers, has made him the go-to exercise rider for many of Baffert's stars.

“He can tell me a lot. He tells me what we can do differently. We try to change it up a little bit every day,” Baffert said, adding, “He's a good horseman. He's a really good horseman.”

Baffert and Gomez form a dynamic combination, much the way Baffert and Barnes did. “He cannot feel what I feel,” Gomez said. “I cannot see what he sees.”

According to Baffert, Gomez's input is vital. “He'll tell me if a horse is not doing well,” he said. “I want to know if we're doing too much with him, if we're not doing enough.”

Humberto Gomez with Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Authentic

Baffert had long admired Gomez from a distance. “I always thought he'd make a great addition to the barn,” he said. Once he had the opportunity to hire him, he did not hesitate to assign highly-regarded but unproven Justify to him.

Gomez knew almost immediately that Justify would be the horse of his dreams. “The power of this horse and how professional,” he said. “He was acting like he was an older horse. The horse would do anything you wanted him to do. He likes to please you.”

Authentic? He was a project from the start.

“Authentic, when we got him, he was really immature,” Gomez said. “He would be galloping and looking at things all the time and trying to do things like a troublemaker. Every day was something with him.

“Day by day, we were trying to get to know him better, always keeping in mind that he was a late foal (May 5) and it was going to take him time to mature. With this COVID thing, they changed the time for the Kentucky Derby, so we were lucky to get him more time to get him more mature and everything.”

Gomez raves about Saudi Cup-bound Charlatan, describing him as a “machine.” Although newly-minted 3-year-old Life Is Good and Authentic were both sired by white-hot stallion Into Mischief, he believes that Life Is Good is more advanced than Authentic was at this early stage while describing him as being “in a learning process.”

Justify, Authentic, Charlatan, Life Is Good. The hits keep coming for Gomez. That almost surely will continue as long as he remains aligned with one of the most accomplished trainers of all time.

“I love to be riding all these champions,” Gomez said. “I'm so lucky to be part of his team.”

Catemaco will always hold a special place in his heart, though. Mulhall needed to wait until he turned 4, but on New Year's Day she and Gomez exulted as he made a winning debut in a six-furlong race at Santa Anita.

“It was very emotional because I see a horse almost dying and you never thought the way we saw him that he would make it just to be a pet,” said Gomez, appreciating how far he and Catemaco have come.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

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