12/21/2012 2:56PM

Fair Grounds: Goncalves learning the ropes in first local meet

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Coady Photography
Leandro Goncalves concedes that he is still figuring out the Fair Grounds surface nuances.

NEW ORLEANS – Jockey Leandro Goncalves faced traffic challenges on a mile-and-70-yard trip with Hawaakom in a maiden race for 2-year-olds last weekend at the Fair Grounds.

On the backstretch, Hawaakom was jammed along the rail and shuffled back. On the final turn, the inside was blocked, and Goncalves had to swing the colt wide.

With running room on the outside in the stretch, Hawaakom overpowered the opposition. “When I asked him, he just took off,” Goncalves said.

A Jazil colt making his second start and trying two turns for the first time, Hawaakom, trained by Danny Peitz for Shadwell Farm, paid $75.60 to win.

That race is an indication how Goncalves’s first meet at the Fair Grounds is progressing. After riding through a challenging first few weeks, Goncalves is gaining momentum.

“My first time here,” said Goncalves, a 30-year-old native of Brazil. “Kentucky people didn’t race very much at the beginning. You think, this is tough, but you just have to keep working hard.”

Goncalves is used to winning.

In 2011, he ranked third in the nation in wins with 298. This year through Thursday, he had 260 wins, the most significant a Super Derby romp on Bourbon Courage, and stood 22nd nationally in jockey purse earnings, at more than $7 million. Goncalves finished fourth in the jockey standings at the Churchill Downs spring meet and won his third consecutive riding title at Indiana Downs.

His previous winter base was Tampa Bay Downs, where he was the leading rider in the 2011-2012 meet.

“I was trying to come down here the last two years, but I didn’t think that it was the right time,” Goncalves said. “I didn’t have enough business.”

A turf victory on Zapper Belle for Peitz in the Pago Hop on opening weekend was the highlight of the first two weeks of the meet for Goncalves, who won with three of his first 34 mounts.

He has picked up the pace, riding nine winners from his next 51 mounts to climb into seventh place in the standings.

The success included a win for trainer Steven Duke on 27-1 shot Dreamglider in a two-turn maiden race Dec. 6 for 2-year-old Louisiana-bred fillies. “I asked him to run her long,” said Goncalves, who rode Dreamglider on opening day when she finished ninth sprinting in her debut.

Goncalves said he is learning the nuances of the racing surfaces.

“Early in the meet, I got two horses beat because I didn’t know the turf course,” he said. The course generally favors closers, and he said his mistakes were moving too soon and sitting too close to the pace.

Patience also is a virtue on the main track with its long stretch, he said. When he was a teenager attending the jockey school in Brazil, a lesson was, “when you think you’re going to move, go 1-2-3, then move,” he said.

At Fair Grounds, he might not be counting to 3, he said, but he is focusing on staying patient. Like he was on Hawaakom.

Making mother proud

The 2-year-old filly Mama’s Dia and the 3-year-old colt Parabellum – both offspring of the El Prado mare Shaconage – have won maiden races on turf at this meet. Tom Amoss trains both for owner/breeder Andrena Van Doren.

On Dec. 14, Mama’s Dia, by El Corredor, made a winning debut in a race at about 5 1/2 furlongs. Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Mama’s Dia rallied along the rail and edged Queen Nagweer by a neck in 1:06.52.

On Nov. 29, Parabellum, by Street Sense, rallied along the rail under Napravnik to edge Steel Guitar by a neck at the same distance, run in 1:06.14. Parabellum was scheduled to have run Friday in a two-turn turf allowance race.

Mitch Shirota trained Shaconage, a multiple-graded stakes winner who earned $534,051 in 29 starts from 2002 to 2005 for owner/breeder Van Doren. All six of Shaconage’s victories came on turf. In 2004 at Churchill Downs, she won the Grade 3 Distaff Turf Mile and Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap.

“She was a runner,” said Amoss, who noted that Mama’s Dia and Parabellum, though both talented, are “actually quite different.”

“Mama’s Dia is very professional,” Amoss said. “Parabellum, it was very difficult to get him to do things correctly.”

Parabellum’s victory came in his fourth start. In his debut in February at the Fair Grounds, he ran a strong race on dirt, finishing second in a sprint won by Macho Macho, who went on to win the West Virginia Derby. Amoss said he isn’t sure if Mama’s Dia can handle dirt.

He said that the turf course was “playing to the front end” during the week when Mama’s Dia ran. “For her to come off the pace and win was not only a sign of her talent, but an indication that she’ll go farther,” Amoss said.

Van Doren and her husband, Paul, were owners of Vans Tennis Shoes. “Sean Penn wore a pair in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ ” Amoss said. “That helped the company take off.”

Sisters win back to back

On Dec. 15, full sisters struck for victories in consecutive races. Envoy’s Running and Envoy’s Production – Louisiana-bred daughters of Run Production and the Zarbyev mare Foreign Envoy – won low-level claiming races.

The 5-year-old mare Envoy’s Running won the second race, and the 4-year-old filly Envoy’s Production won the third.