Barbadian-born jockey Patrick Husbands is the recipient of the 2014 Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.
The award honours a Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or regular rider in the country for more than five years who has made a significant impact on the sport.
Gomez, who was born in Cuba, was Canada’s top jockey on seven occasions.
In 1966, he became the first jockey in Canadian racing history to win 300 races in a single season and his 318 victories that year was tops in North America. His win percentage for the 1966 season of .32 was the highest ever for a North American champion, a record that still stands. He was a four-time winner of Canada’s most prestigious race, the Queen’s Plate, and the winner of the 1977 Sovereign Award for Outstanding Jockey.
Gomez, who died of complications after a three-horse accident during the running of the Canadian Oaks in 1980 at age 52, won 4,081 races with a 24 per cent winning percentage.
“I’ve heard all the stories about Gomez,” said Husbands. “He was a top class rider and no one ever has had a bad word to say about him. When I came to Canada, I always hoped that it would turn out good, but I never dreamed that one day I would be at a stage to receive this award named for one of the greatest jockeys ever to ride at Woodbine. It’s an absolute honour.”
The leading jockey at Woodbine on five occasions, Husbands won a record seventh Sovereign crown five years ago while becoming the only rider to surpass the $10 million mark in purse earnings that year.
The 2003 Barbados Service Star recipient began his riding career at Woodbine in 1994. The first season was challenging as Husbands, who won the prestigious Cockspur event in Barbados at age 16, failed to secure a ride in the first five weeks and was contemplating returning home when his older brother Aubrey intervened and encouraged him to stay.
He won 12 races that year, 50 the following season and his first stakes event in 1998, when he posted 131 wins in 780 starts.
In 2003, Husbands led Wando to a memorable Triple Crown score.
“There were so many butterflies,” he said. “I hadn’t won a Queen’s Plate yet and when it happened with Wando, it was unbelievable. And to win a Triple Crown took many months to sink in. Wando was a true champion.”
Husbands, who became a Canadian citizen in 2000, is in the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame.