04/20/2008 11:00PM

Gonzalez thriving under the radar


OLDSMAR, Fla. - With jockey Daniel Centeno and trainer Jamie Ness rewriting the record books this season at Tampa Bay Downs, it's easy to overlook the fact that other jockeys and trainers have been quietly having good meetings in their own right.

Take jockey Luis Gonzalez, for example. Gonzalez finished second behind Centeno last season with 88 wins, taking three stakes at the meeting, and this year has been winning at a steady clip. He posted a riding double Saturday, booting home Double Watch ($16) in the third and Shipwatch ($16.60) in the ninth to raise his win total for the meeting to 49, which ranked him sixth in the standings. Both Carlos Montalvo and Pablo Morales, who were fourth and fifth, have left for the meeting, so there's an outside chance Gonzalez could wind up third in the rankings.

A 40-year-old native of Panama, Gonzalez said former riding great Laffit Pincay Jr. gave him help getting started.

"He got me a job galloping horses, introduced me around, and made sure I met the right people," Gonzalez said.

A perennial power at Thistledown, Gonzalez has been slowly but surely building a client base at Tampa in recent seasons, in part because of some changes in his riding style. Once a somewhat passive rider who often took horses back and looped wide with late rallies, Gonzalez has honed his skills. He has become more aggressive, putting horses in contention early and often tucking in behind and inside rivals, then making his move into the stretch.

"He's a good, solid rider now," said trainer Gerald Bennett, who saddled Shipwatch on Saturday, "He rides speed horses well but also places stalkers and closers in the right spots where they can make their moves. He's a complete package."

Gonzalez is slated to return to Thistledown, and with Bennett planning on using that track as his headquarters this summer, fans can expect those two to team up quite a bit in the coming months.

Smock barn looking sharp

Trainer Lori Smock's stable has come to life of late, and last Wednesday, Smock sent out a pair of winners on the program, saddling Joe's Gold Seeker ($31.20) to win at first asking in the third, then coming back with Stay for the Storm ($14) in the five-furlong turf allowance feature.

On the same card, Dale Bennett cut loose another young runner who may have a future when he tightened the girth on Golden Citizen E K, a first-time starter who blew the doors off a field of high-priced claiming sprinters by eight lengths in the solid time of 1:11.59.