04/16/2014 12:55PM

Jockey Gonzalez loses bug but gets hot


Ricardo Gonzalez lost his best friend three weeks ago, but he’s rebounded nicely.

The 18-year-old rider from Mexico became a journeyman rider, losing his five-pound apprentice allowance after two wins March 23, his last day with the bug.

Losing the bug can be traumatic for riders, and Gonzalez didn’t record a victory his first week as a journeyman. Of course, he only had one mount his first day and two his third day while riding 12 horses that week, when he finished with one second and one third.

Things have picked up since then, with six wins from 37 mounts in the past two weeks, and Gonzalez is still tied for fourth in the jockeys’ standings with Frank Alvarado with 46 victories.

He’s hit the board with 19 of his 37 mounts over the past two weeks, a higher in-the-money percentage than when he had the bug.

“It’s a different world for him,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Ron Freitas. “Some trainers who rode him just to get weight off are using other riders, but I think he’s still in a great spot. Business is OK, and those [trainers] who feel he fits their horses use him. Some barns have been pretty loyal.”

Gonzalez said, “Everything is going good.”

And Freitas said the young rider is “still in a great spot” despite losing the bug because he works hard, getting on close to a dozen horses a day, including 2-year-olds who will begin racing soon.

Unlike some 18-year-olds, Gonzalez not only doesn’t know everything, but he also realizes he doesn’t know everything.

“You can never be good enough,” he said. “Every horse is different. I’m very open-minded and try to learn how to deal with them.”

Gonzalez listens and learns, and he’s earned the respect of other riders.

Leslie Mawing, who is currently riding at Emerald Downs, encouraged Freitas to take Gonzalez’s book and even roomed with him, mentoring him on riding techniques and strategies. Dennis Carr also has been helpful to the young rider.

“Everyone has come to me,” Gonzalez said gratefully. “Leslie started helping me. He said I needed to get my pace set. When I’m working horses, I try to know how fast they’re going so I’ll know how fast I’m going in a race. Dennis comes when I do something wrong to tell me to try to do it different the next time. Any time he tells me, I do it.”

Listening and learning come easily for Gonzalez, he said, because “my family raised me good. Whatever they have to say, I listen, and I don’t answer back.”

Gonzalez is also smart enough to realize that as competitive as the jockey fraternity is, it still looks out for its own.

“When they help me, they help themselves, too,” he said.

Gonzalez has one other thing going for him.

“This is something I love to do,” he said of riding. “When they close the track on Monday, I really want to get back on Tuesday so I can ride again.”

Riley’s book a runner-up

Shelley Riley, who guided Casual Lies from Pleasanton, Calif., to a second in the Kentucky Derby, came close again in Kentucky last week when she was one of three finalists for the prestigious Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, which was won by David Owen for “Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset.”

Owen’s book detailed the 1967 Grand National, when all the runners except Foinavon, who was a distant last at that point, failed to clear the 23rd hurdle. Foinavon did and galloped home a winner.

“I was thrilled to death to have gotten as far as I did,” said Riley, who self-published her book, “Casual Lies: A Triple Crown Adventure.” “It was very exciting. I got a really good response from the crowd.”

Owen received a $10,000 award, while Riley and Dorothy Ours, who wrote on Battleship’s 1938 Grand National victory, received $1,000 each. All three also received crystal trophies.

While in Kentucky for the event, Riley saw Dance With Fate, who was second in the El Camino Real Derby, win the Blue Grass Stakes and even cashed a ticket on him. She also attended a sale, but strictly as a viewer.

◗ Returning from a three-day suspension, leading jockey Russell Baze scored five wins Saturday on his first day back and two more Sunday.

Baze has a seemingly insurmountable lead in the standings with 110 winners to 63 for runner-up Juan Hernandez.

◗ Just as there was no Thursday racing this week, there will be no Thursday racing next week at Golden Gate Fields.

Following the two three-day weeks, the racing schedule returns to its regular four-day weekly schedule May 1.

There will be a five-day week May 22 through Memorial Day, May 26, with a three-day week the following weekend. The final two weeks of the meet in June are the regular four-day weekly schedules, concluding June 15.