01/18/2017 12:16PM

Gonzalez pointing two former claimers to Barbara Fritchie, General George

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Sweet On Smokey will be pointed to the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie on Feb. 18.

Claudio Gonzalez has won a lot of races since he began training four years ago. He has won three Laurel Park meet training titles and led the standings last year at Timonium. Gonzalez was second in victories on the Maryland Jockey Club circuit of Laurel and Pimlico in 2015 and 2014.

While stakes wins have been scarce, Gonzalez has possible starters for both the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie and Grade 3 General George following wins by Sweet On Smokey and Afleet Willy last weekend at Laurel. The $300,000 Fritchie, for fillies and mares, and the $250,000 General George are the top races of the Laurel winter meet and will be run at seven furlongs Feb. 18.

True to style, Gonzalez claimed Sweet On Smokey and Afleet Willy, who race for the BB Horses stable. Gonzalez took Sweet On Smokey for $12,500 at Monmouth Park in July 2015. Although her form has been spotty, the 5-year-old Sweet On Smokey has since won 7 of 20 races and more than $336,000.

Gonzalez claimed Afleet Willy as a 2-year-old out of a $25,000 maiden-claiming victory at Laurel in December 2015. He has steadily improved and has won four of his last five starts, including three consecutive allowance/optional-claiming races. Afleet Willy is 6 for 12 for Gonzalez, with earnings of $178,000.

Sweet On Smokey’s victory Saturday was her second straight in the What a Summer Stakes. She also won the Dashing Beauty Stakes at Delaware Park last July and scored a 10-length victory in the Videogenic on New York Claiming Crown Day at Aqueduct last April. Those four races, dating to last January, are Gonzalez’s most recent stakes wins.

“The key to her is her white-blood-cell count,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is low. We check her blood all of the time.”

Sweet On Smokey rallied up the inside to win the What a Summer by a half-length. The race was run over a “good” track that was sealed.

“She likes the wet track,” Gonzalez said. “When I took her to Aqueduct for the Claiming Crown, the track was wet that day, too.”

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Sweet On Smokey is 4 for 10 at Laurel. She finished fourth in last year’s Fritchie, beaten 3 1/4 lengths.

“She ran good, but she had post position 1, and I never like the inside,” Gonzalez said. “At Laurel, you have to send them when you have post 1. She is more mature now than a year ago.”

Gonzalez, 40, came to New York from his native Chile in 1985 and began galloping horses at the New York tracks. He went to work as an exercise rider in the mid-1990s for Juan Serey, the leading trainer in New Jersey at the time, and then in 2002 took a job with Ben Perkins Jr.

“I learned a lot from him,” the soft-spoken Gonzalez said of Perkins. “He is a very nice man. He was good to me.”

Ten years ago, Gonzalez had a health scare when he was diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery to remove a testicle and underwent chemotherapy. His health has been good since.

“It was very scary,” he said. “My wife, Alejandra, and I had two young children at the time.”

Gonzalez has won 286 races since he started his stable in the fall of 2012. He finished fourth in the Monmouth Park trainer standings the next year and still resides in New Jersey. Last summer, he decided to race at Laurel instead of at Monmouth. He is now planning to move his wife and three children to Maryland.

“We just decided to move this week,” Gonzalez said. “The family needs to be together. It will be much better.”