TORONTO, January 2, 2018 – Welcome to the third edition of the weekly Woodbine Snowbirds Report, now in its seventh year, chronicling the winter adventures of Woodbine-based trainers and jockeys currently plying their trade south of the border.
It was an up and down week for the Woodbine trainers and jockeys last week, as some closed out the year on a high note with victories, while others were dealing with a number of racing cancellations due to extreme cold weather at tracks in the northern United States, like Aqueduct, Laurel Park and Penn National.
One of those trainers closing out the year on a high note was Nicholas Gonzalez, who picked up his first win of the Gulfstream Park meet with Third Man In on New Year’s Eve. Gonzalez said a little luck from his wife and assistant trainer, Martha, helped snap a run of five runner-up finishes from his first 10 starters at Gulfstream.
“It was funny,” he said. “We had run second like five times without a win. Martha was late getting here, but she’s down here now. She said, ‘You’re fired, I’m saddling this horse.’ So my capable assistant Martha saddled while I watched, and the rest is history.”
Gonzalez has a 14-horse string at Gulfstream Park this winter, mostly made up of claiming horses. Gonzalez said his experience racing at Gulfstream in the past has given him a much better idea of what type of horse will be competitive during the winter meet.
“Because I know what racing is like here in the winter time, I try to use my noodle and bring the right kind of horses here to be competitive,” he said. “With the way the competition is and the way the purses are, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring our better Ontario-bred and Ontario-sired horses here. Even if you win, you lose because the purses are so much different and you’re losing your conditions.”
One horse that Gonzalez is excited to see back this winter is Berliner, who hasn’t run since last February. Berliner had reeled off three consecutive wins in allowance company at Woodbine in 2016, before being sidelined with an injury last winter.
“He was quite a handy horse,” Gonzalez said. “We won three in a row with him and I took him and ran him in the Hill Prince at Belmont. He got a little chip in his knee and we did some surgery on him. He’s been here in training. I breezed him (on Sunday) and he’s doing very, very well. We’ll see where that goes.”
Gonzalez could also be on the lookout for new stock during the Gulfstream meet. Gonzalez famously claimed Midnight Aria for owner Tucci Stables for $35,000 at Gulfstream Park in January 2013 before going on to win the Queen’s Plate less than six months later. Gonzalez said if an Ontario-bred three-year-old pops up for a claiming tag during the Gulfstream meet, it could pique his interest.
“We see the odd Ontario-bred show up here for high claiming and we’re always looking at something like that to hope lightning might strike twice again,” he said.
Gonzalez had three starters in all at Gulfstream Park last week, as Hey Howie finished second on December 29 and Written ran sixth on December 31.
Four other Woodbine trainers reached the winner’s circle last week, including a pair of trainers that recorded stakes victories. Roger Attfield recorded his second stakes score of the Gulfstream meet with Ghostly Presence, who won the second division of the Tropical Park Oaks Stakes on December 30. Jockey Rafael Hernandez traveled down from Aqueduct for the mount, in what was his only win of the week. Attfield also got a pair of fifth-place finishes from Final Copy and Tiz a Slam last week. Final Copy ran in an allowance race on December 29, while Tiz a Slam ran in the Tropical Park Derby on December 30.
Mark Casse saddled Valadorna to a win in the Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds on Boxing Day. Casse had two winners from 19 starters last week, as He’s Bankable won at Gulfstream Park on December 29. A pair of Casse runners also placed in stakes last week, as First Premio was second in the Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds and Conquest Enforcer was third in the Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Both races were run on December 30.
John Simms recorded a win from Bear’s Profit at Tampa Bay Downs on December 29. Simms also sent out Malbec to a third-place finish on the same day.
Pulled the Goalie gave Danny Vella his first win of the winter at Gulfstream Park on December 31. Vella also saddled English Illusion to a fifth-place finish in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes on December 30, and Monetary System finished 10th in the seventh race at Gulfstream on December 31.
Jockey Kirk Johnson was back in the winner’s circle last week at Mahoning Valley, riding Chairman Garey to a win in the sixth race on the Boxing Day card on December 26. Johnson also hit the board with a runner-up finish from Legal Dispute on December 27 among his nine starters last week.
Luis Contreras rode in three stakes at Gulfstream Park on December 30, with his best finish coming on Sister Nation, who ran fifth in the second division on the Tropical Park Oaks.
Michelle Rainford recorded a runner-up finish with Hangtime at Penn National on December 28 in what was her only mount of the week.
Sheena Ryan recorded six starts at Tampa Bay Downs last week, with her best finish coming aboard Miss High Tide, who ran fifth in the opener on December 31.
Emma-Jayne Wilson finished 10th aboard Dalama at Gulfstream Park on December 30 in the Tropical Park Derby.
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Kevin Attard, who sent out Flutie to a seventh-place finish at Gulfstream Park on December 31.
Hyatt’s Dude finished 10th at Gulfstream Park on December 29 for Sid Attard.
Brass Compass finished fourth at Gulfstream Park on December 29 in what was the only start of the week for Reade Baker.
Julie Belhumeur recorded an eighth-place finish with Kyslios’s Justice at Tampa Bay Downs on December 30.
Involuntary finished 10th in the Via Borghese Stakes at Gulfstream Park on December 30 for Josie Carroll.
Nick Caruso recorded a sixth-place finish with Glenville Gardens in the Prairie Bayou Stakes at Turfway Park on December 29.
Silver Ring recorded a runner-up finish on December 28 at Penn National for Steven Chircop.
Michael De Paulo recorded a pair of starters last week at Gulfstream Park, including Bullet Theblue Sky (sixth, Dec. 28) and Sister Nation (fifth, Dec. 30) in the Tropical Park Oaks.
Hangtime finished second at Penn National on December 28 for Scott Fairlie.
Darren Glennon sent out Rebellion’s Dream to a 10th-place finish at Mahoning Valley on December 27.
Viva Forever finished fourth at Tampa Bay Downs on December 30 for Shane Learn.
Paula Loescher sent out a pair of starters at Tampa Bay Downs on December 27, as Catamount finished fifth in the second race and Above All Odds finished sixth in the seventh race.
Red Hot Love finished fifth at Penn National on December 29 for Nick Mileni Jr.
Steve Owens hit the board with his only starter of the week, as Josie’s Riddle finished third at Gulfstream Park on December 31.
William Tharrenos sent out four starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including Martini Kid, who finished third on December 28. Tharrenos also sent out Forty’s Sweetheart (sixth, Dec. 26), Trajecly Hipp (fourth, Dec. 28), and Remembering Mickey (fourth, Dec. 28).
Greenfield recorded a runner-up finish at Tampa Bay Downs on December 31 for Michael Wright.