08/27/2013 1:53PM

Golden Gate Fields: Gonzalez looks like a jockey with a future


There’s a new kid in town who is quietly attracting the attention of Northern California trainers.

Ricardo Gonzalez is an 18-year-old apprentice who still gets a seven-pound weight break. And for someone who doesn’t even have a driver’s license, he’s showing he can definitely get around on a horse, having won races at Turf Paradise, Northern California fair tracks and, most recently, Golden Gate Fields.

A native of Sinaloa, Mexico, Gonzalez became interested in horses when he was 15. He had long talks with his father about horses, until, he said, “My dad told me to be a jockey, and I said I want to do it.”

With an aunt and uncle living in San Diego, Gonzalez was able to come to California and enroll in a jockey school. After graduation, he went to Turf Paradise, winning for the first time in his eighth career race on Feb. 22. He wound up with 10 wins, 18 seconds and 22 thirds from 159 mounts at Turf Paradise, and headed to New York, where he came under the wing of Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr.

“He helped me a lot with my style,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez intended to ride in New York, but, he said, visa problems prevented him from getting a license from New York stewards so he returned to California.

Gonzalez’s agent from Turf Paradise didn’t want to leave Arizona, so on the advice of fellow jockey agent Joe Griffin and journeyman jockey Leslie Mawing, local agent Ron Freitas took his book.

Mawing said he was impressed by the shy, quiet teenager and started talking to him.

“You can see in his eyes he wants to learn,” said Mawing. “I had the same look.”

Freitas not only started booking mounts for Gonzalez, he had the jockey move in with him.

Gonzalez won twice with 16 mounts in Pleasanton and twice at Sacramento. He had 5 wins, 5 seconds and 5 thirds in 36 mounts at Santa Rosa and won back-to-back races for his first Golden Gate Fields wins last Thursday.

“He has natural ability,” Mawing said. “Horses run for him. He’s still green, but the mistakes he makes are easy to correct.”

Gonzalez is showing the kind of work ethic that could make him a successful rider for years to come. After working horses early at Golden Gate Fields, he has Freitas drive him to Pleasanton to work more.

“You can never be good enough,” said Gonzalez. “I always try to learn and keep improving.”

A Thousand Aces upsets again

A Thousand Aces upset the $30,550 Humboldt County Marathon last Sunday at Ferndale, only five weeks after being claimed by trainer Melanie McDonald.

McDonald wasn’t thinking of the Humboldt County Marathon when she claimed A Thousand Aces for $4,000 at the California State Fair in Sacramento on July 17.

“I was looking for a cheap horse to run on the fairs that hadn’t been run to death,” she said.

A Thousand Aces, a 3-year-old, seemed to fit the bill. He was making his Northern California debut and only his eighth start when she claimed him. He had started in straight maiden company down south for Doug O’Neill and had graduated for a $30,000 tag.

McDonald said she did some dental work on the Awesome Gambler gelding and ran him on the turf in a $12,500 claimer on Aug. 2 at Santa Rosa instead of running him in a race on the dirt the same day.

“I thought I’d give it a try,” she said.

A Thousand Aces won the race, returning $36.40.

Although there was an attractive straight 3-year-old race scheduled at Golden Gate Fields that interested McDonald, she took A Thousand Aces north for the Ferndale meet.

“When we came up, there was a $4,000 claimer at seven-eighths that I thought about,” she said.

But A Thousand Aces really seemed to take to the half-mile track.

“He was training well, and he went around the turns like a hoop running around a barrel,” McDonald said.

And so, for the first time, the 75-year-old McDonald began to think of entering a horse in the Marathon. McDonald’s main concern was whether A Thousand Aces could handle the 1 5/8-mile distance.

“You never know if they can run that far,” McDonald said. “I was pretty sure I’d get a good mile and a quarter. But I think on this little half-mile track horses run farther. They don’t look down a long stretch and get discouraged.”

McDonald wasn’t worried whether A Thousand Aces was ready to face older horses.

“That was not really a concern,” said McDonald. “He’s a very strong horse and well balanced.

McDonald’s confidence proved well founded. A Thousand Aces, under Inoel Beato, outdueled Tiger Cat through the lane to win by a neck. He returned $17.80

Trainer Quinn Howey saw his three Marathon entrants, Tiger Cat, Graeme Crackerjack, and Surfer Dave, run second, third, and fourth. Howey set a meet record with 16 victories and he hit the board with 25 of his 29 starters.