05/18/2006 11:00PM

Gonzalez in right place to rebound


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Trainer Nick Gonzalez had a whale of a season at Fort Erie last year, finishing with a 30-percent win rate and a meet-leading 56 wins, 17 more than runner-up Lyle Morden.

Then it was off to Tampa Bay Downs, where for the first time Gonzalez raced in the winter. The results posted there by his 20-plus horse outfit weren't pretty. He won less than a handful of races, and his win rate was 7 percent.

"It was a very tough meet," said Gonzalez, 54, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., native. "The horses we brought from Canada struggled on that deep, sandy, and cuppy track. It was disappointing. But a lot of positive things happened, and you're going to see them in the next few months. We have a lot of unraced horses ready to run, both here and at Woodbine."

The Gonzalez barn has already won four races at Woodbine and two at Fort Erie. He said that entries here will be stepped up.

"We have real fit horses, and I've been waiting for stretch-outs," said Gonzalez. "I don't want to run them at 4 1/2 and five furlongs. I'll be very active at the longer distances."

Gonzalez uncorked a couple of swift 2-year-old fillies at Woodbine on May 13 in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden sprint. The winner, by 3 3/4 lengths, was Miss Willow, who was a $7,500 purchase by Gonzalez at the September Keeneland sales. Miss Willow's winning time, 51.41, was about .60 seconds off the track record. Second in the race was My List, whom Gonzalez purchased at the October sale in Kentucky for $1,200.

Pending a veterinarian's report, 51 percent of Miss Willow has been sold to Team Valor.

"It was for six figures," said Gonzalez. "I'm still going to train her. The next logical race is the My Dear Stakes."

The My Dear will be run at Woodbine on July 2.

Gonzalez said he also is in negotiations with Woodbine's leading trainer, Reade Baker, for the sale of My List.

Ando will lose bug June 7

Apprentice Happy Ando, third in the rider standings, is slated to lose his bug June 7. Ando finished ninth among Fort Erie riders last year, with 36 wins. He also scored seven times at Woodbine before he was injured there Nov. 20, when his mount, Choreography, clipped heels.

Earlier on that card, Ando scored his biggest win to date, with Sandspit, who paid $35.30 in an allowance for a purse of $69,100.

"My back was hurt," said Ando. "It bothered me till February. I didn't start back up till March."

Clark gets off to red-hot start

Cory Clark is off to one of her best starts. Heading into the weekend action, she topped the riders here with eight victories. Working during the off-season for Woodbine trainer Josie Carroll certainly didn't hurt her.

"I spent the winter in California with Josie, riding five or six horses a day for her," said Clark. "I came back March 10 and went to Woodbine till the season opened here."

* Fort Erie adds this Tuesday to its weekly schedule. The season is scheduled to end Tuesday, Oct. 31.