01/10/2009 12:00AM

Gonzalez learns to take short route

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - It was another workmanlike victory for Luis Gonzalez when he piloted Pepperup Notion ($17.60) to an upset in Friday's third race at Tampa Bay Downs. But the manner in which he got the job done was a perfect example of the "new" Luis Gonzalez.

In the 1 1/16-mile route, Gonzalez moved to the rail early and saved ground while his mount was allowed to find her best stride. Then in the second turn, Gonzalez hugged the rail, found an opening as Pepperup Notion began to gain momentum, and popped through along the fence entering the stretch to quickly gain the lead. Gonzalez set his mount to brisk pressure and maintained a safe margin home at odds of better than 7-1.

Gonzalez, who is currently fourth in the Tampa Bay rider standings with 11 wins, has revamped his riding style in recent years and the adjustments have resulted in increased business and more wins. Gonzalez used to often let his mounts lag far off the pace, then would come six and seven wide with looping rallies. Many of his mounts that looked like threats coming out of the turn wound up getting tired late, leaving unhappy bettors and trainers.

In the past several seasons here Gonzalez has put more of his mounts in close contention and often dropped to the rail to stalk the pace if he can't get to the front early. He has learned the rail is the shortest way home and as a result, can often be found in the catbird's seat along the inside and behind the leaders.

Huber Villa-Gomez is another rider who has polished his style and become a solid journeyman. Villa-Gomez posted a riding double on Friday's program, winning the opener aboard Dash N Dancer and then coming back in the fourth aboard Muddy Gator. Both winners returned a healthy $20.20.

VIlla-Gomez has improved on the turf, learning to give his mounts cover when possible.

"He's a hard worker and gets a lot out of his mounts," said Villa-Gomez's agent, Chuck Deaton, "That's why I was happy to hook up with him for this meeting. I had thought for several years that he was underrated."

Villa-Gomez, who slumped to just 16 wins last season, had 42 and 37 victories in the two previous meets here and now has four wins at the current stand.

Castles in the Sky just misses record

It's no easy task trying to find a replacement for a horse that has won 14 races and more than $500,000 after being claimed for $12,500, but Jamie Ness has come up with a pretty solid substitute for multiple stakes winner Lookinforthesecret in the speedy Castles in the Sky.

Another $12,500 claim, Castles in the Sky racked up his fifth win for Ness on Friday when he led throughout a five-furlong starter allowance on turf to win by seven lengths. He covered the distance in 56.12 seconds, just .04 of a second off the track record.

It should be noted that the rail was set out 12 feet, thus making the final time even more impressive.

The win was the second on Friday's card for Ness, who is now tied for leading trainer with Kirk Ziadie with nine winners apiece.

Daniel Centeno, who was aboard Castles in the Sky, posted a riding double, raising his win total for the meeting to 26 as he continues to dominate the jockey standings.