Lindberg Honored with Avelino Gomez Memorial Award

May 22, 2024

Gunnar Lindberg (Woodbine Photo)

Gunnar Lindberg named 2024 Avelino Gomez Memorial Award recipient

By Chris Lomon – Woodbine Communications

TORONTO— Gunnar Lindberg, who recorded 997 career riding wins, nearly 70 of them stakes, has been named the 2024 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award. 

The treasured Gomez Award is given to the person, Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or regular rider in the country for more than five years, who has made significant contributions to Thoroughbred racing.

It is named in memory of one of the sport’s most talented and respected competitors. The Cuban-born Gomez died of complications after a three-horse accident in the 1980 Canadian Oaks. 

To commemorate his lasting contributions to the sport, a life-size statue of Gomez, who called Toronto home and raised a family there, keeps watch over Woodbine’s walking ring. A replica is presented to each year’s recipient. 

“I was quite surprised,” said Lindberg of the honour. “Julie Bell [Woodbine’s Senior Manager of Stakes Department and US & Foreign Horsemen’s Services], who I have known for a long time, was the one to tell me, which meant a lot.

“I also rode with Avelino, which makes this that much more special. He was a mentor for me. When I won my first race, he led the charge on my initiation.”

Lindberg was destined for a life in the irons.

His father, Herb Lindberg, enjoyed a prosperous riding career and was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1991. His grandfather, Joe Cowley, also had a successful run as a jockey, including his triumphs with multiple stakes winner Joey Bomber.

“I was around the racetrack starting when I was 10. I loved it right away. Being a jockey was something I always wanted to do. It was my dream, so it never felt like a job.”

Trainers and others quickly took notice of Lindberg’s talents when he launched his riding career in May 1973.

One of those outfits was Sam-Son Farm.

Gunnar Lindberg
Gunnar Lindberg

The apprentice would don the stable’s famous red and gold silks while astride stars like Selari Spirit, Runnin Roman, and Spirit Rock.

“When I was 16, I quit school and went to work for [trainer] Art Warner and Sam-Son Farm, which he started from scratch. My first stakes winner was Runnin Roman, who was one of Sam-Son’s favourite horses at the time. I also won the Grand Slam Handicap on Sam-Son’s Instead of Roses at Arlington.

“Most people might not remember Selari Spirit, but he was a very good one for Sam-Son. We won seven stakes riding him. We set three track records at three different racetracks. He won the Hessian Handicap at Keystone Racetrack (now known as Parx) at a mile and an eighth in 1:47. I was 18. We put him on the lead, and he just toyed with them.

“The John B. Campbell Stakes was the first $100,000 race I rode in and that was with Spirit Rock, who was Selari Spirit’s brother. Spirit Rock lost the Campbell by less than a nose. We won the King Edward Gold Cup with him and another horse, Determinant.” 

Gunnar Lindberg
Gunnar Lindberg (Woodbine Photo)

Pole Position was another standout for Lindberg.

The son of Draft Card came into his life at a perfect time.

“I was struggling then, and one morning, I ended up talking to a trainer who was standing at the outside fence of the track. It was George “Goody” Goodwin. He looked at me and said, ‘You want to get on a horse for me, son?’ That horse turned out to be Pole Position. 

“The first work was terrible, but he went on to win seven stakes for me, including the Japan Racing Association Cup in 1979 and the John B. Campbell in 1980. Two years later, I won the Japan Association Cup with Thirty Eight Paces.”

Blushing Katy also provided Lindberg with a thrill ride.

Gunnar Lindberg (Centre, Blue Silks), Gregg McCarron and Tony Agnello (Photo by Lauren Heathcote)
Gunnar Lindberg (Centre, Blue Silks), Gregg McCarron and Tony Agnello (Photo by Lauren Heathcote)

He teamed with the daughter of Blushing Groom (FR) to win three stakes. She was named Canada’s Champion 3-year-old Filly for 1989.

Lindberg, who would ride at 30 racetracks, also enjoyed a successful run in the U.S.

“I was lucky enough to ride for [trainer] King Leatherbury in Maryland. Bill Passmore, who was his first call, helped get me into King’s barn. Those were eight great years in Maryland. I was fortunate enough to also do well at Gulfstream the year I was there, which was riding for Kinghaven.”

There was also the chance to ride in Canada’s most famous horse race, The King’s Plate.

In 1989, Lindberg teamed with Reade Baker trainee in the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown.

“I rode in the Plate three times. I made the lead heading for home, but With Approval, who would win the Crown, demolished the field.”

Lindberg, who hung up his racing silks in 1991, looks back on his riding career with a profound sense of fondness and gratitude.

“I stopped riding at 35. I couldn’t make the weight as easily and the injuries were tougher to deal with. Being able to ride was something I always wanted to do. It was a fun career. 

“I’m most proud of the chance to ride with some of the best riders in the country from Angel Cordero to Steve Cauthen, the McCarrons, Sandy Hawley, Robin Platts, Avelino, Lester Piggot, and the like.”

His contributions to racing didn’t end at the finish line.

Lindberg, a director of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Foundation since 1989, worked at Woodbine Entertainment in various capacities for 10 years.

After three years as an adjudicator for the Thoroughbred Racing Industry Appeal Board, he became an Ontario Racing Commission Steward from 2002 to 2016.

Gunnar Lindberg at a Blue Jays game in 2023
Gunnar Lindberg at a Blue Jays game in 2023

He has held the title of Senior Racing Official with the AGCO for the past eight years.

“Being able to stay in the game and in the position that I’m in, where I can make a difference, to help keep a level playing field for all and preserve the integrity of the sport, is something I am grateful for.”

The Avelino Gomez Memorial Award ceremony will take place on June 29th at Woodbine.

Lindberg joins Ron Turcotte, Johnny Longden, Sandy Hawley, Don MacBeth, Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, Jim McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, Robert Landry, Francine Villeneuve, Sam Krasner, John LeBlanc Sr., George Ho Sang, Jack Lauzon, Robert King Jr., Stewart Elliott, Emile Ramsammy, Steve Bahen, Mickey Walls, Patrick Husbands, Quincy Welch, Gary Stahlbaum, Gary Boulanger, Emma-Jayne Wilson, Frank Barroby, Eurico Rosa da Silva, Slade Callaghan, and Russell Baze as Gomez recipients.  

@jonathanstettin @bbopjz agree , but in my opinion Mr. Stettin remains second to none …….

Jimmy Williams (@matt918476) View testimonials

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