07/05/2010 12:00AM

Big or small, Nick Gonzalez likes winning


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Nick Gonzalez stable is a study in contrasts, a fact made most apparent by Big Red Mike's victory in Sunday's Queen's Plate.

Participating in the Queen's Plate represented a pinnacle for Gonzalez, who has a large stable at Fort Erie while his wife, Martha, runs the show here at Woodbine.

But while the horses were heading out to the track for the Queen's Plate, Gonzalez asked his son and assistant, Nick Jr., to text a staff member at Fort Erie to find out how Talk to Da Manager had made out in the day's final race.

Talk to Da Manager won that $4,000 claimer for nonwinners of two, which offered a purse of $6,900 and gave leading trainer Gonzalez yet another victory there.

About 20 minutes later, the Gonzalez family was meeting Queen Elizabeth II in the winner's circle following the $1 million Queen's Plate.

"I couldn't believe it," said Martha Gonzalez, as she related the tale here Monday morning. "We were running in the Queen's Plate, and he's worrying about the race at Fort Erie."

But that, in a nutshell, is what Team Gonzalez is all about.

"It's part of the whole picture," said Nick Gonzalez. "We do the best we can, and try to win as many races as we can.

"The biggest thing I was happy about when I came back to the barn after the Queen's Plate that the horse was perfect. He got a little overheated."

Nick Gonzalez had left here for Fort Erie on Sunday evening, arriving at 11:30 p.m., and was at the track by 4:30 a.m. on Monday.

"A lot of people have come by the barn, congratulating me and shaking my hand, and every one means a lot to me," said Gonzalez.

"My adrenaline's all used up. I'm just sitting here, me and the barn people, kind of reflecting on what might happen in three weeks."

That reference would be to July 25, the date of the $500,000 Prince of Wales, the 1 3/16-mile dirt race which is the second leg of the Triple Crown for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Big Mike Red already is familiar with the Fort Erie oval, having recorded his first three breezes there after shipping to Gonzalez last September.

"I think I might just keep him there at Woodbine for another week and a half, then bring him down, gallop him a couple of times, and breeze him over the track," said Gonzalez.

By Monday morning, the enormity of Big Red Mike's accomplishment had also sunk in for Martha Gonzalez.

"It's what you work for, why we do it," she said. "It's just the biggest race ever. It's not just the purse size -- it's the Queen's Plate!"

This time, Big Red Mike stayed calm

Martha Gonzalez also had words of praise for Woodbine's racing management, which relaxed a requirement for all Queen's Plate entrants to saddle outside in the walking ring.

Big Red Mike had reared and unseated his rider, Eurico Rosa Da Silva, while making the turn in front of the grandstand on post parade prior to his victory in the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial here June 13.

"He has saddling issues, and he just doesn't want to do that turn," said Gonzalez. "He was saddled inside, and excused from post parade.

"It really made a difference; he was calm and cool."

Da Silva grateful to gain mount

Big Red Mike was the first Queen's Plate entrant for Team Gonzalez, and gave owner Dom Romeo his first win in his sixth crack at the race.

But for Da Silva, who had won last year's Queen's Plate aboard Eye of the Leopard, the second time around was just as sweet.

"I find it very hard to believe, but now it's sinking in," said Da Silva, as he visited the Gonzalez barn with his agent, Don Parente, here Monday morning.

"To win two Queen's Plates in a row, it's a great feeling. But I think it would always be the same, even if you won 10 times. It's the Queen's Plate!"

Da Silva's success also could be considered to be unexpected, since he did not have a Queen's Plate mount until late this spring.

"Three weeks before the Plate Trial we went to talk to Martha, about this horse," said Parente.

Gonzalez asked Parente if he had a commitment for the Queen's Plate, and, when he answered in the negative, she offered him the mount on Big Red Mike.

"We were lucky to get him," said Gonzalez. "I was surprised he was still available."

Attendance, wagering strong on Plate Day

The other big winner on Queen's Plate Day was Woodbine itself.

Moving the race to a later date on the calendar this year, in order to accommodate a potential visit by Queen Elizabeth with the knowledge that she would be in Canada at the time, paid enormous dividends.

The Queen was here on Sunday, and so were the people.

Woodbine, which stopped recording attendance figures following the introduction of slot machines here in 2000, had security checkpoints set up on Sunday and 32,841 were counted.

That number necessarily would include those who were here only for the slots but it was an impressive figure nevertheless.

Woodbine was packed, on every level of the grandstand and throughout the rest of the plant, and there was a day-long buzz about the place which long has been absent.

All sources wagering on the 12-race Woodbine program was strong at $6,815,671, a figure exceeded only when the Breeders' Cup was held here in 1996. Wagering on the Queen's Plate itself was $2,169,916, a single-race record, again excluding Breeders' Cup Day.

Last year, Woodbine's all sources handle on an 11-race program was $5,779,982 and the Queen's Plate handle was $1,843,587. Both the all-sources and Queen's Plate handle were up 18 percent from last year.

* There will be no live racing this Thursday. The other dark Thursdays through the balance of the meeting will be July 29, Sept. 2, and Oct. 7, which precede holiday Monday cards.