02/21/2006 12:00AM

Gonzalez gets 4,000th aboard 31-1 longshot

Bill Vassar Photography
Roberto Gonzalez poses aboard Peek a Bootrando, his 4,000th winner.

ALBANY, Calif. - Roberto Gonzalez is the dean of the Bay Area jockey colony, having ridden here since 1978.

With back-to-back victories in Monday's sixth and seventh races at Golden Gate Fields, he reached the 4,000 plateau for career wins.

Appropriately, his landmark victory came aboard the Jeff Bonde-trained Peek a Bootrando - appropriate because the two have been friends since 1972, when both were exercise riders for trainer Jerry Dutton in Southern California.

Gonzalez is the godfather of Bonde's four children.

After guiding Barbecue Bob to the winner's circle in the sixth race, Gonzalez was greeted in the walking ring before the seventh race by Bonde, who told him he would get victory No. 4,000 aboard Peek a Bootrando. Bonde proved prophetic as Gonzalez rode the 5-year-old horse to a three-length victory in a $50,000 optional claimer at six furlongs, returning $64.80 in the process.

Bonde was misty-eyed as he walked to the winner's circle; Gonzalez was ecstatic.

"Not that I don't want to win for other trainers, but nothing could be better than to do it for Jeff," he said. "I really wanted to win it with him.

"No matter what, he sticks with me. When I broke my neck and was out for six months, he put me on horses and helped me get my career back together."

After winner's circle pictures, Bonde reflected on his friend and said, "He's probably ridden about half the races that I've won. Whenever I had good horses, I'd go to him."

There is nobody better on a speed horse than Gonzalez. When most jockeys try to give their horses a breather from the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole, Gonzalez says he likes to try to open up even more there because it forces other horses to move earlier than they would like. He then tries to give his mounts a breather from the quarter pole to the eighth pole so that they can finish strongly.

But you don't win 4,000 races solely on the lead, and Gonzalez is plenty versatile. He knows lots of tricks and is, in Bonde's words, "the best herder in America" when horses try to get by him in the stretch.

Beyond Gonzalez's riding skills and their friendship, Bonde says his fellow 51-year-old is amazing in the morning.

"When he's working horses, he knows what to tell you about a horse," Bonde said. "When he tells you a horse is good, go to the bank on it."

Gonzalez said it was more a case of experience than a special knack.

"I don't think I could tell you that when I was young," he said. "Anything that pulls you, you think is good. Now I can tell by the way they push and try."

Gonzalez, who got his first win aboard Sawtooth on May 2, 1975, and was Southern California's leading apprentice in 1976, thought for many years that Leonotis was the best horse he had ridden after an upset victory over John Henry in 1979.

Later, he thought it was Stalwart Charger, the 1990 California Derby winner, who later that summer beat older rivals in the Del Mar Breeders' Cup before suffering a career-ending injury while making a strong move in the Super Derby.

Now, he says it was the talented Chilean mare Ema Bovary, who scored 10 victories, nine in stakes, and earned $706,120 under him in 12 starts.

Thursday is graduation day

The best races on Thursday's card are two maiden heats.

Gone Irish, who has run against such good ones as Barber, Objective, Bold Chieftain, and Wilmore, looks like the one to beat in a one-mile race for 3-year-old maidens. Although beaten by 14 lengths, he was second at the distance in his comeback on Jan. 25 and should be better with his two-turn debut under his belt. No Reverse, third in that race, came back to graduate in a $25,000 maiden claimer at a mile last Friday.

R Spring Affair, second sprinting for a tag last time, moves back into straight maiden company and stretches out for the first time. First-timer Pop Icon, who is cross-entered in a race at Laurel, has worked well.

The co-feature is a $40,000 maiden claimer for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, featuring Pyrite Family and Revealing, both of whom are taking big steps up off good races; the comebacking Just a Twitt, second in both her starts last year; and first-timer Crooked River, a half-sister of the useful mare Rollette.

Donations sought for injured trainer

Horsemen and fans are being asked to help trainer Reina Gonzalez, who suffered major injuries in a training accident last week when the horse she was riding collapsed on top of her and severely crushed most of the bones in her face as he thrashed about on the track.

Donations are being sought for Gonzalez, who has two children, including a newborn baby. Donations can be made at the paymaster of purses office or can be mailed to "Reina," c/o paymaster of purses, Golden Gate Fields, 1100 Eastshore Highway, Berkeley, CA 94710.