TORONTO, February 14 – Welcome to the seventh edition of the weekly Snowbirds report, now in its sixth year, chronicling the winter adventures of Woodbine-based trainers and jockeys currently plying their trade south of the border.
This week, we check in with trainer Nicholas Gonzalez, who saw all five of his runners hit the board at Gulfstream Park last week. Gonzalez picked up his fifth win of the winter with Into the Future on February 9, and had three second-place finishes from Camaria and Moonshine Martini on February 11, and Yes Darlin on February 12. Transformative rounded out Gonzalez’s starters with a third-place finish on February 10.
It’s been a productive winter so far for Gonzalez, who has five wins from 32 starts in Florida since the end of the Woodbine meet on December 4. Gonzalez has recorded another 12 in-the-money finishes, and is currently on a run of 10 in-the-money finishes from his last 12 starters, which includes two wins.
“We’re happy,” he said. “As long as the horses go over there, give a good performance, and come back ok, we’re happy. Sometimes you have to take what you get down here. I don’t care if you’re running for bottoms or if you’re running at the top level, it’s tough, competitive races. You’ve got to do the best you can to find the best spots for your horses.”
The highlight of Gonzalez’s winter so far was the performance of Uncle B in the $50,000 OBS Sprint Stakes for colts and geldings at the Ocala Training Center on January 24. The Swynford Stakes runner-up went right to the lead under jockey Luis Saez and went on to win by three lengths, breaking the track record in the process with a time of 1:08.60 for six furlongs.
“That was really, really impressive that day and he did it so easy,” Gonzalez said. “He went into it great and he came out even better.”
Uncle B at the OBS… (Coglianese Photo)
Gonzalez said he’s pointing Uncle B towards the $75,000 Texas Glitter Stakes over five furlongs on turf at Gulfstream Park on February 25.
“That could be good timing for the way we want to approach the spring with him,” he said. “Obviously, he’s proven himself on synthetic so we know he can do all that. He’s out of an Honour and Glory mare, so we’re always thinking one day we’d like to try him on the turf. So that kind of fits in to about a month apart from the Ocala race. That’s looking like that’s going to be our next start.”
If all goes well for the Kentucky-bred son of Zensational, he could target the Woodstock Stakes, which traditionally is run early on in the Woodbine meet.
“We’ve come home to Toronto and won the Woodstock a few times with winter-raced horses that are fit and have done it all winter,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, that would be something we’d be looking at very hard with him.”
Gonzalez won the 2014 Woodstock Stakes with Puntrooskie, a horse he claimed for $50,000 at Gulfstream Park earlier that winter. Gonzalez has had success bringing home horses from Gulfstream Park, including in 2013 when he claimed Midnight Aria at Gulfstream Park for $35,000 and went on to win the Queen’s Plate later that year. Gonzalez said he’s always on the lookout for young horses at Gulfstream, and has already claimed Wilshire Star for $25,000 earlier this winter.
“I watch every one of the $25,000, $35,000, and $50,000 claiming races just to see if there’s something that I might get lucky with,” he said. “If you get one of those lightly raced horses that still has lots to prove and has a way to go before you can really figure out where they’re going to be down the road, that’s basically where I’d be doing my shopping.”
Speaking of the Queen’s Plate, Gonzalez will be looking to win his third Queen’s Plate this season, and is hoping that Lion Lord can be the horse to take him there. Lion Lord boasts a strong pedigree, as the colt is by Bernardini and is out the multiple graded stakes winning mare Sugar Swirl. Gonzalez said he was excited to learn he would be training the Stronach Stables homebred last season.
“When we got him last summer, we were just tickled pink to have him in the barn,” he said. “We handled him with kid gloves. We knew he wasn’t going to be a sprinter so we trained him accordingly. We got one sprint race into him, which was a good tightener and a nice, even race. He got a lot out of it.”
Lion Lord finished sixth in that first start back on September 24 over 6 1/2-furlongs on the turf at Woodbine, and was set to stretch out around two turns on November 13.
Unfortunately, he would be scratched at the gate after rearing up prior to the start. Gonzalez said Lion Lord suffered a minor injury as a result of the incident and is beginning to work his way back to the races.
“He’ll come to me this week,” he said. “He got a minor injury where he needed to have a couple of stitches in his leg because he cut himself up that day. We just shipped him right from Canada to the farm in Ocala and he’s in training at the farm right now. We’re a little behind with him, but once we get him back to the track and get him breezing, we’ll get caught up and see where the next couple of months takes us with him.”
Along with Gonzalez, three other Woodbine trainers found the winner’s circle last week, including Sid Attard, who saddled Bar Down to a win at Gulfstream Park on February 10. Attard’s other starter of the week, Danger Bay, finished ninth at Gulfstream Park on February 11.
Star Contender was a winner at Gulfstream Park on February 11 for Tino Attard.
Brian Lynch recorded one win from six starters last week when Hammers Vision won at Gulfstream Park on February 10. Lynch had three other starters hit the board at Gulfstream Park last week, including Deneb (3rd, Feb. 9), Lex Vegas (2nd, Feb. 12) and Sheplaysthefield (3rd, Feb. 12). Lynch’s final two starters of the week included Cape Force, who finished fifth at Gulfstream on February 10, and Turbo Street, who was eighth in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 11.
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Roger Attfield, who recorded a pair of third-place finishes from four starters. La Soul was third at Gulfstream Park on February 8, while D’oro Paradise was third at Tampa Bay Downs on February 12. Attfield’s other starters last week included Mousquetaire (8th, Feb. 9) at Tampa Bay Downs and Glencairn (10th, Feb. 11) at Gulfstream.
Julie Belhumeur had one third-place finish from three starters on February 10 at Tampa Bay Downs. Gabriels Joy was third, while Mystic Delight was fourth, in the sixth race of the day. Earlier on the card, Wonnestrut finished 10th in the fifth race.
Ashlee Brnjas also recorded a pair of third-place finishes from five starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week when Augusto B and Biigon both finished third on February 10. Brnjas also sent out Iphikles (7th, Feb. 8), Acting the Part (6th, Feb. 11), and Paddy Point (6th, Feb. 11).
Lukes Alley finished fifth in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on February 11 and was the only starter for trainer Josie Carroll last week.
Mark Casse recorded a pair of runner-up finishes and a third-place finish from 14 starters across Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds, and Tampa Bay Downs last week. Royal Asscher was second at Fair Grounds on February 9, while Awesome Slew was also second in the Grade 2 Hardacre Mile Gulfstream Park Handicap on February 11. Over at Tampa Bay Downs, Queen’s Plate prospect State of Honor ran third in the Grade 3 Sam. F Davis Stakes on February 11, while Coronation Futurity winner King and His Court was ninth.
State of Honor… (Nicolle Neulist Photo)
Steven Chircop saddled Tigne to a runner-up finish at Penn National on February 8 as one of four starters last week. Chicop’s other starters last week included Bellacomeilsole (4th, Feb. 8) and Cosmic Charlie (4th, Feb. 11) at Penn National, and Euro Princess (5th, Feb. 11) at Laurel Park.
Gail Cox sent out Cool Cat Jazz to an eighth-place finish at Gulfstream Park on February 10.
Ricky Griffith had a pair of starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including All Irish (8th, Feb. 8) and Divine Sonet (6th, Feb. 10).
John Mattine recorded a runner-up finish from three starters last week when Budding was second at Gulfstream Park on February 9. Mattine also sent out Opening Remark (5th, Feb. 10) and Tonedaddy (10th, Feb. 11) at Gulfstream last week.
Michael McDonald sent out two starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including Virga (7th, Feb. 11) and Prilla Le Blanc (7th, Feb. 12).
Malcolm Pierce had a pair of starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, including First to Go (6th, Feb. 8) and Victoire (10th, Feb. 11).
Threes Are Wild finished fourth at Tampa Bay Downs on February 12 for Julie Robillard.
John Simms recorded one in-the-money finish from four starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, as Hiram’s Mistress ran third on February 12. Other starters for Simms last week included Reel Good Movie (6th, Feb. 8), Annie O’Schiller (8th, Feb. 8), and Sandys Hurricane (6th, Feb. 9).
Stuart Simon saddled three runners at Gulfstream Park on February 12, including Yorkton (6th), Espresso Time (6th), and Katrina’s Way (DNF).
William Tharrenos recorded three runner-up finishes from six starters at Gulfstream Park last week. Forest Pike (Feb. 8), Bold Summit (Feb. 12) and Ring in the Nite (Feb. 12) were all second in their respective races, while Wickstead was ninth on February 10, Misty Spirit was fifth on February 11, and Hey Bear was seventh on February 12.
Daniel Vella sent out Wolf Dance to a seventh-place finish at Gulfstream Park on February 10.