Eye of the Beholder

November, 3, 2012
ARCADIA, Calif. -- On Friday I rode Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Beholder, and that was my 13th victory in the world championships. This is racing at its best, and it's always an honor to be in a position to be on these kinds of runners and have a part in their success.

Richard Mandella did a tremendous job with this filly, teaching her how to relax and be a little more patient. When I left the gate, I didn't ask her to leave there too much because I know she typically is quick. I thought they would have trouble clearing me because she is so fast away from the gate, and the idea was to get her to settle as much as possible, not get her stirred up and too aggressive.

When we got right to the point of the turn, Kauai Katie came outside, and I dropped my hands. Beholder quickened and got a length back in front of her, and I kept trying to discourage the other filly by moving out a little bit, and when we headed up the backside, I put her on a long hold. She hit a nice stride to herself and she traveled beautifully for me, just the way I could have dreamed it up.

When I got to the turn, she stayed up in the bridle for me and was traveling wonderfully. About the quarter pole, I moved to see whether she could sneak away and I could get away from them. But as she started turning for home, she hit the idle button for me, and it popped into my head, "Oh no," because the more I asked her, the shorter her stride got. I was getting worried, and all of a sudden, the horses caught up to her, and when the other fillies started catching her, she started coming back up underneath me.

About the 16th pole, it was like she had revived herself. She had this true grit about wanting to win, and she got right back on her feet and finished up nice for me. That's typical with fillies sometimes. They take a different kind of handling than a male horse, and she is a typical filly who is temperamental about things and you have to do it her way.

When I turned for home, I just automatically told her, "Let's go," and when I started to tell her that, she started getting a little attitude with me and I didn't have time to start trying different things to try to get her back up on her feet. I gave her a couple of spanks left-handed, and by the time I got into her a couple of times and told her, "Let's go," her stride kept shortening. But then all of a sudden the horses from behind started to catch up and it revived her, and she quit paying attention to me and was paying attention to them, and when she did that, her true grit of wanting to win the race, her competitiveness, got back up into her bloodstream.

I kind of focused on her and I was getting into her left-handed, and I buried my head and tried to pick her up and communicate with her. I just prayed for her to stay up in the bridle and get me home. I just squeezed every last ounce I could get out of her, and all of a sudden the other filly couldn't get to her.

Now it's on to Breeders' Cup Saturday and a big afternoon card in store. I'll have Bares Tripper in the Juvenile Filly Sprint Preview Stakes, Den's Legacy in the Juvenile Turf Sprint Preview Stakes, Brother Francis in the Damascus, Know More in the Juvenile Turf, Switch in the Filly & Mare Sprint, Reneesgotzip in the Turf Sprint, Slim Shadey in the Turf, Jimmy Creed in the Sprint, Jeranimo in the Mile and Richard's Kid in the Classic. I'm also still promoting my book, and you can see the trailer for it. Here's hoping I'm back tomorrow evening to talk about more winners!

I can't help but get a little nostalgic on Kentucky Derby day. I have lots of great memories in this sport. One of them, certainly, is riding in the Kentucky Derby for the first time.

It was 1994, and I was 22 years old. I was riding a horse called Southern Rhythm. I thought the horse had a really good chance. He'd won the Lexington Stakes pretty well two weeks earlier, and I thought he might be peaking at the right time. Unfortunately, we finished seventh, beaten by 10½ lengths. It was a respectable run behind a very good winner, Go For Gin. But it was still disappointing.

That said, the experience was absolutely incredible. I'll never forget that first call to the post, seeing the crowd, and hearing "My Old Kentucky Home." Being a part of it, for the first time, was just so special. It's as awesome of a feeling as you can get in this sport.

A couple of my fellow jockeys in this year's race, Mario Gutierrez and Sheldon Russell, are fortunate enough to be in that position -- as Derby rookies. The thing that I'd tell them, above all, is to treasure the experience.

I've gone on to ride in seven more, and they've been equally as special. But I'm dying to win one. I came closest in 2009, finishing second with Pioneerof the Nile. I really think I have a great shot today with Daddy Nose Best. I think the race dynamics play out pretty well for us, with all the speed lined up in here. The horse's closing kick in the Sunland Derby was really strong. Obviously, it's a great asset to have that kind of powerful turn of foot in the stretch.

Derby day is so different from any other -- if only because of how long it is. First post is at 10:30 a.m. ET, and the Derby isn't until 6:24 p.m. In between, it's pretty hectic. There are lots of demands on your time -- whether it's media looking for interviews, or fans looking for autographs. But you've just got to maintain your focus. Once I get a leg up from Steve Asmussen around 6:15 tonight, all that peripheral stuff goes out the window. It's all about me and Daddy Nose Best.

Winning the Kentucky Derby has become my career quest. I turned 40 on New Year's Day. Who "nose" how many more chances I'll have?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Happy Kentucky Oaks Day!

I'm getting ready to ride a really promising filly -- Summer Applause, for trainer Bret Calhoun -- this afternoon in the Oaks. I think she's got a great shot to win. She ran a really strong race in the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 31, and she's been training forwardly since. I'll be riding her for the first time today, but what I've seen on tape and in person, I've liked. I'm really hoping she can get the job done.

Yesterday was a fun day. I had a book signing to promote my recently released biography "The Garrett Gomez Story" by Rudy Alvarado. We sold 100 books in the brief time I was there. The response was so strong that we actually had to go find more books! I'm really pleased that my story seems to be connecting with people.

One of the best parts of this book promotional tour is hearing from people that my struggle with substance abuse has helped them to fight their demons. I met one guy at Keeneland a couple of weeks ago who shared his story of addiction with me. Since then, he's actually reached out to me on Facebook, and we've kind of connected a couple of times since. That was really the whole reason that I did the book -- to reach out to people like that and let them know that they're not alone in their struggles, and that there's hope.

Tomorrow, Daddy Nose Best and I will leave from post 10, which I think is a pretty good spot for us. The key is going to be the break. If everyone gets away cleanly, we should be able to secure a nice position going into the first turn. But, with 20 horses, obviously a clean break is far from a given. If one horse breaks sharply in or out, he could carry five or six horses with him. That's the danger.

It's been a hectic week for me, with the book signing, and with all the other obligations a Kentucky Derby jockey faces, but I'm never too busy to play golf! I've been fortunate to get in a couple of rounds this week here in Kentucky. I only get a limited amount of time to rest and relax, and I admit, I spend much of it on the golf course. Right now, I'm working to get my handicap back down to 2. I'm currently a 7 -- I still have a bit of rust to knock off from my time away from the game due to my injury earlier this year.

But the time for golf is over now. It's all business for the next two days. I'll check back with you tomorrow with some final thoughts before the Derby.

Back on the Derby trail

April, 29, 2012
LOUISVILLE, K.Y. -- I'm back at Churchill Downs for another shot at the Kentucky Derby, and just like anyone else who has a mount in this field, I know I'm fortunate to be here.

Even when you're riding at the upper levels of the sport, there are no guarantees. We saw that earlier this year when I got hurt, and the fact I was able to wind up on a pretty nice young horse with a great future going into this race is one of those privileges you don't take for granted.

I've known Steve Asmussen for a long time and he's always been a good trainer. We've done a little business here and there and I got on a lot of his young horses a couple of years ago when he first sent a string out to California. He gets in a pattern or rhythm of using certain guys, but it's kind of when you least expect it that he'll come around and give you a call. My agent and I let him know we were available and he should keep us in mind for the Derby after Bodemeister ran so big in Arkansas, and that's how I wound up on Daddy Nose Best.

Like I said, this is a nice young horse with a great future ahead of him. When they first gave me the mount, Scott Blasi sent me a picture of the colt and I was really impressed. He's a good-looking little horse and his past two races were solid improvements, moving forward -- the El Camino Real Derby win in February and the Sunland Derby victory in March.

I worked the colt on April 23; he'll work again tomorrow but I won't be aboard -- I get to watch this time. That was just a getting-to-know-you ride, and we're good to go. When I worked him, he handled really well. We went in company with Z Dager, who is multiple graded stakes placed, and "Daddy" put him away fairly easily turning for home. He finished up well and came home handily about a length in front of the other horse. People who watched his work were very impressed. The Daily Racing Form clocked him in six furlongs in 1:13.70, galloping out seven-eighths in 1:27.10, and gave him the "Work of the Day" mention online. Hopefully he goes as well tomorrow and it'll be "all systems go."

On Thursday, a documentary about me called "118 Days" airs at 8:00 p.m. ET on HRTV. You can watch the preview here. It follows the road from my surgery to the Kentucky Derby, all about the process of me trying to get back in time to find a horse and hopefully win. I really, really want to win the Kentucky Derby -- but you know, you can't want something so badly that you're consumed by just that one thing. I've enjoyed a phenomenal career and appreciate every accomplishment, it's just that this race is definitely still a goal. It's been around for a long time and it's very prestigious and I've come close with Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, so being within reach makes it that much more desirable.

I think the documentary is a really good piece and the guys who worked on it were great. Actually, it was a lot of fun, and we're trying to get in a good ending on Saturday. Stay tuned for more!

An open book

February, 21, 2012
DUARTE, Calif. -- Those of you who are keeping up with my career probably wonder how therapy on my left heel is going since I underwent surgery last month. Tuesday is a big day in determining exactly where we are in the process; I get a CAT scan to make sure everything's good, and the doctor will be able to give me more of a date to shoot for as far as a comeback is concerned.

This was the first time they ever did this surgery and sent somebody home right away instead of doing it as inpatient surgery, so it's pretty cool to be on the cutting edge of medicine.

In a perfect world, I'd love to be back when the San Felipe Stakes is run at Santa Anita on March 10. But it all depends on the verdict the doctor gives me today. If the leg looks OK, he'll tell me how fast I can get ready and if I need to just continue what I'm doing or speed it up. He's not worried about the plate and screws in my heel, he's worried about not putting too much pressure too soon on the two screws in my ankle that went into the joint.

This was the first time they ever did this surgery and sent somebody home right away instead of doing it as inpatient surgery, so it's pretty cool to be on the cutting edge of medicine. When I came in for my first checkup they were stoked at the way I was recovering so fast, so hopefully we can keep that up and keep surprising them.

While I've been on the sidelines, I've been taking advantage of the time off to finish up my book project, The Garrett Gomez Story, with Rudy Alvarado. I had a couple of people who were trying to get me to write the story of my life, and I kept telling them no. I feel like I'm still fairly young for me to write some kind of book, or to have somebody write a book about me. I felt like I hadn't done enough to warrant a book. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like people kept telling me I would have a good story to tell.

When I talked to Rudy, we hit it off right away, and I felt like he would be a good guy to write the book. I told him, "I don't really want to do this, but a lot of people encouraged me to do it." He said, "Yeah, you absolutely should," and the more we talked, the more I was like, "All right, I'll make you a deal -- I'll do this, but I don't want anything out of it for me. I could care less about making money off the book, but I want to make it an inspiration to other people and not mainly about my career. I understand my career has to be part of my story, but the idea is, I want it to be something somebody can relate to," and he said, "Perfect, that was basically what I wanted to do." We were on the same page right away, and we tried to run with it.

We just sent the final draft off to publication yesterday. It comes out May 30, but you can pre-order it and get it by April 14. We'll be celebrating the release on April 9 with a golfing tournament and dinner to benefit the Winner's Foundation, the nonprofit that really helped me out. It's a good program, and we're hoping to raise a lot of money with the event and with the book to help them keep it running.

It's been about a year and a half to get to this point, and it's been a lot of work. I don't really like reflecting back on a lot of the stuff I did. When you're messed up, it's hard to remember times and dates, it's hard to revisit the stuff.

My wife blocked it out because it was a bad time in her life. I was messed up so I don't remember. We had to piece it together.

There were a couple of parts in the book we had to do so much digging to get the dates right. My wife blocked it out because it was a bad time in her life. I was messed up so I don't remember. We had to piece it together. I kind of had this idea where Rudy was going to write the book and I would tell him stories. I thought it was going to be something fairly simple, but it's not like that. The amount of research he had to do -- maybe 80 phone calls, sitting on the phone for hours at a time, not to mention all the articles he had to look up -- blew me away. Rudy wrote the book, but I went through every single fact with him.

This is how open I was -- anything that happened that had something to do with my family, I told them, "Tell him the truth and he'll use what he wants. Whatever questions he asks, answer." Then with Bob Fletcher from the Winner's Foundation, I said, "Bob, a guy's going to be calling you and you can tell him everything about your interactions with me." He called me back and said, "Is it OK to release your files to him?" I was like, "Yeah." Whatever he had, he released to Rudy.

I can't explain the actual way Rudy wrote the book -- you'll just have to read it to find out -- but I will tell you this: When I first started reading the first couple chapters, it was really different. It's kind of hard when you read a book about yourself, like watching a TV segment done on you -- you can't really judge if it's good or not, you have to get that answer from somebody else.

It's pretty exciting to have this coming out. People have asked me what it's like to know that all the bad stuff from my life is going to be out there for the world to read. Honestly, there's immense freedom in saying, "This is what I did then. This is what I'm doing now. This is my life."

I'm not hiding anything. All my junk is out there. As long as I keep it out there, I don't have to go back to where I was before. And that's a great feeling, let me tell you.

Eying a Classic repeat

November, 5, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Friday was pretty interesting in terms of race results for me the day before the Breeders' Cup. Things started out well in the Juvenile Sprint when I rode a 2-year-old filly named Shumoos to a runner-up finish behind Secret Circle. She ran really well and finished willingly after putting herself in the race. Coming down the lane, I thought I had a good chance to win, but we just didn't quite get there.

Sweet Cat jumped up and got a piece of it in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and I think this is a nice filly for sure. You'll see more of her down the road, and it was a good third-place effort from her behind Stephanie's Kitten and Stopshoppingmaria.

Cambina ran ninth in the Filly & Mare Turf, and that's a disappointment. She usually has such a nice turn of foot and excellent acceleration, but she really didn't have that on Friday. I'm sure they'll regroup; she has a lot of heart.

The Ladies' Classic was the only race where disaster struck. Miss Match races with protective goggles on her eyes, and the track was so muddy yesterday, they got completely covered from the kickback. She couldn't see, and when the race was over on the gallop-out, I reached up and the goggles looked just like mine. There's the reason she finished last, and it's too bad because she's a talented runner.

Today, I ride Cease in the Marathon, Majestic City in the Juvenile Turf, Broken Dreams in the Turf Sprint, Tapizar in the Dirt Mile, Alpha in the Juvenile, Get Stormy in the Mile and Ruler on Ice in the Classic.

Cease ran a really good race in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, where he finished third. The Marathon's distance of a mile and three-quarters won't be a problem for him. Hawthorne is a different kind of racetrack; it's a real sandy racetrack with a pretty hard bottom, and the turns are a little sharp, so it probably wasn't exactly to his liking. I don't think the distance is going to bother him a bit, and hopefully we'll have a good handicap horse for next year, too.

Get Stormy's got a good chance. Some of his better races are on soft ground, and I thought he ran really well earlier this year in the Shadwell Turf Mile. I was able to do something I usually don't do, and that's give a horse a pretty good-sized lead. He was able to sit and relax and not be in a chasing mode, and when I called on him to start moving up, he was there. He finished well, but and Gio Ponti barely ran him down late. Get Stormy is a really cool horse. It was my first opportunity to get on him at Keeneland, and he's quite enjoyable to ride.

I know we'll take on a monster in the Mile with Goldikova going for her fourth straight win, but that's what the Breeders' Cup is all about. Every race is packed full of up-and-coming stars or the stars of right now, or horses that have done something good to deserve a chance to come here -- like my horse in the Classic, Ruler On Ice. He's this year's Belmont Stakes winner, and even though he hasn't won since then, his second in the Pennsylvania Derby told us there's more in the tank. He kicked in with a good late run in that race, and we had to go wide down the lane to do it. We'll fly in a little bit under the radar and see if we can spring an upset. Back-to-back scores in the Breeders' Cup Classic? That would be just fine with me.

Cup runneth over

November, 4, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- We're back at the Breeders' Cup again, an event that can be a big payday if you're a "money rider" with lots of mounts.

Last year, we had Blame and a couple like Pluck and More Than Real, horses that were coming off wins and were shorter prices in the wagering. This year, we were able to end up in 11 of the Breeders' Cup races. These runners are a little bit higher up in the odds, but it doesn't mean their chances are any different to me. I still think my horses have a good shot.

We did a lot of traveling to try to get on these horses after Del Mar ended. It felt as if I was on an airplane every weekend. We went to Keeneland. It was supposed to be four days, but four turned into six, six turned into eight and eight turned into 10. Back and forth, here and there, we were able to hustle and pick up some good mounts.

One of the horses that isn't here, Blind Luck, was a big mount for me this year. She's in the November Sale at Keeneland, and it's a little disappointing, because you never want to see a horse not run to its top performance. In every other race she always showed up, and I wish she could have come here. She could have run in the Ladies' Classic, so it wouldn't have been as if the rivalry between her and Havre de Grace would have continued since Havre de Grace is going to the Classic. Blind Luck could have won the Ladies' Classic, but I'm in there on a horse that I think has a really good shot, so life goes on.

I ride a horse named Sweet Cat in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. I didn't ride her last time out at Keeneland in the Jessamine Stakes, but I was right on her hip turning for home, and I thought she ran a quality race. She was in the middle of the whole fray the whole time, and the ground was soft like it should be today after Thursday night's rain. She's owned by a new group, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and any time you start a new partnership, it's good for the game. We need to get more people involved in the sport, and to go out and spend some money on being involved with horses is a lot of fun. It's good to have these people supporting racing and nice to see them hit the big-time with their first major horse.

My horse Shotgun Gulch in the Filly & Mare Sprint has her work cut out for her. That's a race with horses like Turbulent Descent and Switch. She tries hard, but she didn't run too well here in the spring. Our saving grace could be that the track is a little different in the fall. It's a little deeper, not like Derby time when it's a little tighter with a little more bounce in the track. I think that will help her, and she just keeps coming, so hopefully she'll run better than she did last time.

Cambina, the one I ride in the Filly & Mare Turf, has a lot of European form. She came over here and did well this year, and I won three stakes races on her -- including the Grade 1 American Oaks. She's a little bitty thing, like a deer. Hopefully she'll run good.

In the Ladies' Classic, I'm on Miss Match. If you look at her races and a couple of the names she's been running against -- such as last time out in the Goodwood Stakes when she was fourth to Game on Dude, Awesome Gem and Coil -- you're inclined to give her a pass for not winning. The start before the Goodwood, she was in a race where First Dude, Game On Dude and Twirling Candy were the top three finishers -- the Hollywood Gold Cup. In the Vanity Handicap, she ran third behind Blind Luck and Switch, but going back to this March at Santa Anita she actually beat Switch in the Santa Margarita Stakes, a Grade 1 that she took by a head. She's running against really quality horses.

This filly runs and she just tries. She's got a bad left eye and she wears a bubble on it, so she kind of leans in a little bit when she runs, but she always gives me a good effort. I've ridden her four times and won two on her.

Saturday will be different for me without being on one of the top contenders in the Classic, but I think I'm coming in under the radar with a horse that has a lot more upside than people realize. I'll tell you more about that on Saturday. It's going to be a great weekend of racing.

Riding Blind Luck

July, 14, 2011
I ride my big horse of this season, Blind Luck, in the Delaware Handicap on Saturday. It's funny to call her the "big" horse because she really doesn't look like an imposing runner -- but what she lacks in stature she makes up for in heart.

I've ridden Blind Luck in her past three starts. She began her 2011 campaign with a few runner-up finishes that weren't quite up to the standards of her previous season, and they were starting to make some changes so we were privileged enough to end up on her. Her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, really didn't give me specific directions when he asked me to ride her other than not to hit her right-handed because she would duck away from the stick. I've never had a problem with her.

In our first start together, the Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn, she wasn't all the way up to form like she has been for the past couple of races. We ran second to Havre de Grace, who we'll meet again this weeekend. They've faced each other five times already, and they each have two victories (in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, we ran second to Unrivaled Belle while Havre de Grace finished third).

My filly is real straightforward; there aren't many difficult things about her. Nothing bothers her and there's nothing flashy about her, but she has her own distinct look. She runs with her tail carried a little different than most horses and she has her own personality. She's a pretty neat little horse. She's done everything. She ships, she doesn't get nervous, she's a consummate professional. She goes out there ready to run and like I said, she's not much to look at -- she's probably only a little over fifteen hands, maybe fifteen-three, maybe 980 pounds or something like that -- but on a heart standpoint and based on what she's accomplished, she's a classic racehorse.

In the race we won at Churchill Downs this May, the La Troienne Stakes, I thought she had no chance after she fell leaving the gate. She stumbled and when she did that she pulled off a shoe, so she actually ran the whole race on three shoes and overcame that and the start to win. It was quite impressive and that day in the final strides I realized how hard she tries. When you turn for home, she just gives you her all.

Her last win in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood last month was also impressive because she's a closer and she won that race with no pace to run into. The good thing about when they slow it down that much is that, instead of making up 10 or 15 lengths turning for home, I only have to make up four or five. Of course, they're going to come home quicker because they're not as tired, but I am too. When I moved her out turning for home she just overhauled them, and that was impressive because those horses were fresher than they would have been with a quicker pace. Numbers-wise she's not going to have a very good speed figure, but that race was no less an accomplishment than what she did at Churchill in May.

Of course Havre de Grace is a good filly, a really good filly. In fact, we were trying to get them to run Blind Luck in the Hollywood Gold Cup because the other filly is just as difficult to try and outrun as the boys here would be. But the way Hollendorfer's training schedule is mapped out, he wanted to go to Delaware and focus all the attention upon making sure she's still fresh enough and on the muscle for the Breeders' Cup later this fall, and of course it's building up into a nice little rivalry between the two of them as well.

Rivalries with these kind of horses and these kind of races are exactly what the sport needs. I wish that kind of thing could have developed between Blame and Zenyatta, because those two horses racing eye-to-eye down the stretch last year in the Breeders' Cup Classic was phenomenal. Of course, Blame went off to stud to start his second career and Zenyatta was retired after that race, but it would have been cool if they could have showed up in Dubai for the World Cup or something like that. Blame always trained well on a synthetic track and I always thought he worked awesome over that kind of surface any time I worked him, and we know what Zenyatta did on synthetics, so that would have been a phenomenal horse race.

Two horses facing off against each other on a repeated basis gives racing fans something to gravitate towards, and the horses that stick around long enough to actually get a fan base and still compete at the highest levels are rare these days. So once you do come across two that are both talented and running in the same conditions and accomplishing a lot at this level, you consider yourself lucky to be involved and you recognize that it's pretty good for the sport.

Other than the upcoming trip to Delaware, I'll be mostly riding in California as we get the meet underway at Del Mar. Of course, we'd love to get a piece of the action in a few of the Saratoga stakes like the Travers and the Whitney, so we'll keep our eyes and ears open for anyone who might need our services up there. I'll check in with all of you mid-August or see you at the races!

The red-eye to New York

June, 11, 2011
DUARTE, Calif. -- It's the day before the Belmont Stakes and I'll hop a red-eye from the West Coast, be at the track in New York by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. I'm riding Master of Hounds in the big race and I think he's a legitimate contender. He was one I wanted to get back on after we ran fifth by 5 lengths in the Kentucky Derby.

I feel like the Belmont will suit this horse really well. At a mile and a half, he's got just enough gears to be able to handle that kind of distance here in America. This is a little more steadily run race than the Derby, and he's made for that kind of contest. Now whether all these horses that ran good at Churchill Downs will come back and run better than him again is another question, but the Derby was his first trip on dirt and he took everything very well; I was excited with the way he took kickback in his face for his first time, and I felt he deserved another chance at these same horses with a little more experience under him now.

What I know about the Belmont Stakes has pretty much been summed up in last year's blog, where I talked about different strategies and ways riders tackle the race. I enjoy riding at Belmont because it's different; it's such a big, wide oval, and it has a different surface than any track in the U.S. as far as how deep and sandy it is. We don't ride in quite as tight a bunch there on the dirt course, because there's so much room. Sometimes it can be a little dead down toward the inside and guys don't want to be down in there; they'll place their horses a little more toward the middle of the track. But even if you're in the middle or toward the outside you can still hold a horse together off the turns because they're big and sweeping, and you're not losing ground unless you're forced to go super wide.

This year's Triple Crown season has been an interesting one, that's for sure. I think the winners of the Derby and Preakness both performed really well in both races, and you always want to see the horses that run well in the Derby come back and run well next time out, just as a racing fan. Of course I'll be looking to beat them on Saturday, but I'm also hoping they'll perform well again. It's a difficult task for them both to deliver in the short timeframe between Triple Crown races, but the competition they're developing is good for the game.

As for what's going on with me career-wise, it's been hectic with the travel schedule but that's the way it always is. I've won 11 races at Hollywood Park from 59 mounts in between all of the flying in and out, and once the Belmont is over I'll have more of a chance to settle down and get things locked in a little more. We don't really have a solid rhythm going right now in Southern California since we've been shipping a lot, so we've got to search for some good horses here and hopefully find them.

There'll be plenty of those running on Saturday in New York and I'll ride Her Smile for Todd Pletcher in the Acorn Stakes, Justaroundmidnight in the Just a Game Stakes, Viscount Nelson in the Manhattan Stakes, and a couple of other runners on the undercard for Dale Romans and Rudy Rodriguez; plenty of chances at the Grade 1 action leading up to the biggest Grade 1 race of the day. As always, thank you all for following this blog and for your comments -- I really enjoy the interaction and I'm right along with you as one of this sport's biggest fans.

BALTIMORE -- The Preakness is one of my favorite races to ride. I love the whole experience, from the feeling of the actual event to visiting Baltimore and staying down by the waterfront.

In this race, the pressure is either off or it's on, depending on which horse you're riding. Usually it's on for the riders of one or two horses -- the Kentucky Derby winner and the most likely candidates to beat him. The rest of us don't really feel any stress. On race day, there'll be two or three horses bet down and focused on, and the rest of them will be pretty much disregarded.

You still get a lot of people out here for the day like you do at the Kentucky Derby, but for a rider, it's a whole different feel. At the Derby, everybody feels the pressure. Here, a lot of that is gone, and a lot of times those horses that didn't run so well in the Derby will get that easygoing attitude from the jockey and pop back and run big, too.

Horses are like people, though. If they're good athletes, they'll adapt to the situation. You know, I drag to work some days when I just don't feel like doing it. But once I'm out there, you'd never be able to tell that I came to work that way. When I'm in the saddle, I'm in a whole different zone. The adrenaline pumps in and you forget about everything except the competition. Once you're out on the racetrack, a whole different mindset kicks in, and a lot of times, the horses can be that way, too.

This year, I'm riding Sway Away in the Preakness. He's a horse I got on a couple of times before, and we finished second to The Factor in the San Vicente for trainer Jeff Bonde earlier this year. I thought he was a nice candidate on the Triple Crown trail, but then I rode him in the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas and was very disappointed in his race. He got hit with some dirt and acted like a horse that hadn't really run before. Before the race, I thought if he ran poorly, he'd get beat by three or four lengths, and if he ran well, he'd run out the TV. Instead, he finished 9 1/4 lengths back, and that performance was anything other than what I was expecting.

I was happy to see him bounce back a little in the Arkansas Derby on April 16 and run fourth, beaten just 3 1/4 lengths that time under Patrick Valenzuela. He got a better kind of trip and hopefully he can move forward off the last effort. He's a fresh horse now, so that should work in our favor, and you can't help noticing he's by Afleet Alex, who won the Preakness in 2005.

I know this horse pretty well. I've worked him quite a few times and ridden him in those earlier races. He's a very laid-back runner and a classy individual. He carries himself kind of funny because he has a bit of a sway back and his head is set kind of high. It probably hurts his action a little, but he's starting to figure out how to find his way through it. Now he's had some more dirt in his face, and I think he's learning as he goes on. He's got enough tactical speed to keep me out of traffic trouble, and even though the mile and an eighth was a question, he showed from his last race that he can get that distance when he moved after them when they went sprinting real hard. If I ride him a bit more conservatively, I think we can get the mile and three-sixteenths.

Going into this race, I'll have an eye on Animal Kingdom, of course. He's the winner of the Kentucky Derby. But you've also got to watch the pace and see where it's going to come from.

It looks like Shackleford and Flashpoint will be right up there, but when Flashpoint ran in the Florida Derby in his last race, he didn't show any kind of speed. He was behind my mount, To Honor and Serve, and he couldn't keep pace. So I don't know what to think about him, but those two leaving the starting gate right next to each other might help also as far as the pace scenario is concerned. And Astrology has a little pace, and Dance City should be up there, too.

I do a little more homework before a race like this, not so much on my horse as on the field. I'm not really trying to figure out a scenario; I'm just becoming more familiar with each and every runner, because when you have a full field of top stakes contenders, you need to know the tendencies of every single one.

Someone asked me whether I get nervous before a big stakes race. I wouldn't classify it as "nervous," per se, but the zone is definitely intense. It's not a big deal in your mind until you start out in the post parade. You warm up this runner that could be a lot more accomplished in a few minutes. You walk up to the gate and look through it, and you can see your way down the racetrack. It's like your future is stretching out in front of you, and in those moments before the start, everything is possible.