05/06/2007 11:00PM

Philadelphia trainer says if horses 'don't look good, they won't run good

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Trainer Andrea Gonzalez has won with 12 of her first 47 starters on the year, and is tied for 14th in the trainer standings this meet at Philadelphia Park - not a bad feat for a trainer who posted a mark of 6-22-18 from 131 starters last year and cares for a relatively modest band of 10 runners at her Philadelphia base.

"Competition from drop-downs beat me last year," Gonzalez said. "It was the worst year of my life. I think I had the right horses for the races, but if I had a solid nickel horse I'd get beat by a horse dropping in from $10,000.

"This year, I think I have the right horses for the races we are in and my clients let me put them where they belong whether it is here at Philly or at Penn National," she said. "We've gotten lucky and I have some happy horses in the barn right now. We are very hands-on in our approach and take the time to get to know our stock well. Sometimes, I think the bigger outfits can miss things, but we do all we can - our horses are on a good feed program and we always treat them with ulcer medication. Being sure a horse is good on the inside gives you a chance to have a good one on the outside. We stay very conscious of a horse's weight, because if they don't look good, they won't run good."

Gonzalez-trained runners this year have produced an impressive ROI of $3.29. Largely responsible have been Ashwin and Truly Appealing, a pair of shrewd claims, and Hop To, a 3-year-old filly who has showcased improved form of late.

Ashwin, claimed for $4,000 last November, recently had a four-race win streak snapped when she finished second in a Philadelphia claiming purse in late April. Truly Appealing, claimed for $5,000 in February, has since finished second and then won a pair of races at Penn National. Hop To won her maiden ($13.40) three starts back and recently won a claiming purse ($11.60).

"Ashwin was on the thin side and sour when we claimed her," Gonzalez said. "We worked with her, and she must've put on about 200 pounds since we've had her and she's gotten back into form. We have a good team - exercise rider, blacksmith, our help - working with our horses, and that helps.

"Truly Appealing was like the type we look to claim - horses that had been claimed for and/or run for more, and then the trainer feels they aren't good enough and drops them back in cheaper. We get them, give them the extra care, and try to get them back to where they once were.

"We just try to go the extra mile with our horses," she added, "and not treat them like they are in jail at the barn - if you were in your bedroom all day, you'd probably not be a happy person. Spending time with them, feeding them right, getting them grass and peppermints, and just treating them right with windows open in the stall and things like that can go a long way."

Gonzalez began training horses in 1995 and previously worked as a hotwalker and groom for William Anderson and then as an assistant to John Crispo.

"My first horse was a horse I got cheap from John Crispo and made about $40,000 with," Gonzalez said. "From there, I claimed a few, got some owners, and even breed a bit myself now."

Gonzalez is particularly proud of her work earlier in her career with Country Strut and Dixiemore. Country Strut, a $5,000 claim, was a two-time allowance winner who competed in stakes and also won two additional starts. Dixiemore, a $4,000 claim, won two allowance races and a total of four races for her.

"Country Strut was exciting because he was a horse we trained early in his career and then ultimately claimed back," she said. "He was super skinny when we got him and we did a lot with him. We won an allowance race with him by a nose and he was 25-1 in a race where jockey Mike McCarthy was going for six wins on the day, so we made the paper.

"Dixiemore had little form, but we made some changes with his shoes and teeth and got him on track. It was great because it was the owner's first-ever horse, he won at 34-1 off the claim, and we made about $84,000 with him."