08/28/2009 12:00AM

Gonzalez streak ends just short of the record


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Nick Gonzalez, the leading trainer at Fort Erie, was going for his ninth win in a row when his first-time starter Early Spring entered the gate last Tuesday.

A victory would tie the Fort Erie record set by Alex Bankuti in 1984.

But for Gonzalez it was not to be. Early Spring, a 2-year-old filly, veered in at the break, never got untracked, and finished sixth.

"We had a great run at it," said Gonzalez, "and my crew gave it their all. They were right into the day-to-day scoreboard and put forth every effort as the win streak gained momentum.

"In retrospect, we could have changed tactics early on. Just before the streak began, Regal Executive won and then in a race which came off the turf, I contemplated scratching Swamp Patrol, but at the last minute let her run and she lost. In hindsight, if I had scratched Swamp Patrol, we would have tied the record."

Gonzalez has between 70 and 75 horses split between Woodbine and Fort Erie. His wife, Martha, capably handles the Woodbine operation of some 30 horses, while Gonzalez trains the rest in the quieter atmosphere of Fort Erie and makes the trip to Woodbine at least twice a week. Gonzalez has a 30 percent win rate at Fort Erie this meet, and his 35 wins puts him well ahead in the trainer standings. He also has 24 wins at Woodbine, putting him in the top 10.

Besides the two-track training operation, which employs nearly 30 people, including exercise riders, Gonzalez also shoulders the role of vice president of the Ontario Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. He is serving his fifth term on the board.

"Horse racing has been good to us, and Martha and I believe we have to give something back," said Gonzalez. "Helping horsemen through the HBPA is something I very much enjoy doing."

Gonzalez is convinced racing at Fort Erie will continue in 2010 and beyond.

"We absolutely need both tracks in operation, as a number of Woodbine runners eventually venture down this way and continue their racing careers," said Gonzalez. "The town needs this track and the business that it creates for the entire community."

Gonzalez is known for using a number of jockeys rather than just a few.

"My job is to get the horses ready to run, and if that gets done then the rider climbing aboard will have a decent shot to win," said Gonzalez. "One thing I tell my riders is to never stop riding even if a win picture looks unlikely. There are owners out there that pay the bills and we must keep in mind that an in-the-money finish helps that cause."

It appears that his advice is working as the barn has a 65 percent in-the-money rate.

A poll is taken each week at the Gonzalez stable to determine the horse of the week.

"It is just one of those things that add to an overall team effort," said Gonzalez. "Everyone enjoys the selection process."