By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: Norm Fridleifson of the Hastings Racecourse security staff will occasionally glance over to the grandstand area on any given race day to see if a certain lady is in the house and comfortably seated where she enjoys her privacy.
The lady is Mrs. Avelino Gomez, wife of legendary jockey “El Perfecto” whose career total of 4,001 riding victories earned him a 1982 induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Born in Havana, Gomez began his career in Mexico City before hitting the North American circuit that included appearances in Vancouver during the 1950’s. He eventually discovered Woodbine in Toronto and it wasn’t long before Woodbine discovered Avelino Gomez en route to four Queen’s Plate victories.
On June 21, 1980, Gomez was attempting to win his fifth Canadian Oaks title at Woodbine when a spill on the backstretch ended his career – and life – at the age of 52.
For the past 34 years the coveted Avelino Gomez Memorial Award has been presented annually to a jockey who is Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or a regular in the country for more than five years who has made a significant contribution to horse racing.
Hastings riders Sam Krasner (2005) and Mickey Walls (2013) gained national attention winning the Gomez Award after outstanding seasons locally and this year’s recipient is Emma-Jayne Wilson, born and raised in Brampton, Ontario and a mainstay at Woodbine.
Mrs. Gomez and son Avelino, Jr. are in Toronto this afternoon to present Wilson with a miniature replica of the famous Avelino Gomez life-size bronze statue that stands proudly at Woodbine Racetrack.
Perhaps upon her return to Vancouver and another quiet visit to Hastings Raceourse, one of the few people she converses with – the aforementioned security man Norm Fridleifson – will have some stories to share about today’s festivities at Woodbine.
“Only if Mrs. Gomez agrees,” he says in true security fashion. “I think we communicate because I respect her privacy. Not many of our patrons are aware of her presence and that’s the way she prefers it.”