Emma-Jayne Wilson was born the year after Avelino Gomez died, but she knows all about his riding skills and his antics and is humbled to be the latest jockey to receive the award named in his honour.
Gomez, nicknamed El Perfecto, died following a spill in the Canadian Oaks at Woodbine Racetrack in 1980. An award was created in his name and has been given annually since 1984 to a jockey who is Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or a regular in the country for more than five years and has made significant contributions to the sport.
The Cuban native, who is in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and U.S. National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, won the Queen’s Plate four times, led Woodbine jockeys five times in annual wins and led North American jockeys one year in wins.
“I’ve seen a few clips of his riding,” she said. “Unfortunately YouTube does not do Mr. Gomez well.”
Gomez was known for leaping out of the saddle, occasionally walking along the outside rail and enjoying a fine cigar. He also was fond of clowning around making funny faces.
“The flying dismount, that was and is, Gomez is something I never felt I was ever deserving to attempt,” she said.
Wilson is the only woman to win the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most prestigious race, which she did in 2007 with Mike Fox. She holds the record for most wins by a woman jockey. She won an Eclipse Award as North America’s top apprentice jockey in 2005 and was also voted Canada’s top apprentice rider that year and the following year.
When she was notified she would be the 2018 winner of the Gomez Award, the 36-year-old, whose mounts have won more than $70 million in her career, was at a loss for words.
“To be recognized in this way is just an honour,” she said. “The Gomez family and their contributions to Canadian racing is exactly what (the award) embodies; what it means to be Canadian. It’s amazing. I’m fiercely patriotic. I’m proud to be Canadian. I’m been lucky enough to represent Canada as an athlete.”
Wilson, a Brampton native, is only the second female to win the award. The first was Francine Villeneuve, who received the award in 2004, the year Wilson began her riding career. But Wilson has always insisted she is a rider who happens to be a woman as opposed to a woman rider.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have my strengths as an athlete recognized, as opposed to the focus on any potential gender-related weaknesses,” she said. “I’ve been a strong advocate for equality in sports. I hope that I, in some ways, contributed to reinforce that in Canadian racing.”
Wilson said the Gomez Award is so special to jockeys because of the legacy of the rider himself and the previous winners.
“You just look at the list of the people who were named before me, it’s a long list of major riders through Canadian racing,” she said. “You stand there, on the turf course, with everybody else who learned the legacy that was El Perfecto and to be considered a part of that is an honour.
“The award stems to what it is to be a rider. It’s one of those things you strive to be. Gomez’s legacy to contribute to racing in Canada … to be a part of it, is the kind of thing you aim to achieve. You like to put that on the goals list and think about that every day that you can to motivate you to be a better jockey and a better person. It was always something that was in the back of my mind to be considered for.”
Wilson suffered a broken left arm on April 20 and had surgery a few days later. She has no set timetable for her return. She has been enjoying time away from the races with her wife, Laura Trotter, and their two identical 16-month-old twin girls Avery and Grace.
Photo: Emma-Jayne Wilson is the recipient of the 2018 Avelino Gomez Award.
Photo credit: Michael Burns Jr.