07/08/2013 12:44PM

Woodbine: Gonzalezes revel in second Queen's Plate score

Michael Burns
Midnight Aria and jockey Jesse Campbell scored a front-running, half-length victory in the Queen's Plate for trainer Nick Gonzalez on Sunday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Winning the Queen’s Plate is not a new experience for the ontrack and offtrack partnership of Nick Gonzalez and his wife and assistant, Martha.

The Gonzalezes were competing in just their second Queen’s Plate here Sunday, having won the 2011 renewal with Big Red Mike, and they sent out Midnight Aria for a front-running 16-1 victory under regular rider Jesse Campbell.

As they made abundantly clear Monday, winning the $1 million Queen’s Plate is never going to get old.

“Actually, the more you think that you could never outdo something, and actually do it, it comes as a surprise to you,” the 61-year-old Nick Gonzalez said Monday. “I thought that nothing could ever be better than winning the Plate the first time with the queen here. This is equal, if not better.”

Midnight Aria’s road to the Queen’s Plate was not traditional in that the colt had been claimed for $35,000 at Gulfstream Park last winter for the Tucci Stable of Carlo and Lou Tucci.

In his first two appearances at Woodbine, Midnight Aria set the pace and finished third in both the 1 1/16-mile Wando Stakes and the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial.

Martha Gonzalez, who handles much of the day-to-day running of the barn here while Nick manages the barn’s string at Fort Erie, was high on Midnight Aria from the get-go, and her confidence never wavered.

“He’s got a really great constitution,” she said. “He’s 1,200 pounds, he’s a good-feeling horse, and he enjoys his job. He’s even out here this morning, grazing. It makes you feel pretty good when they do what you want them to do. It makes our jobs a little easier, a little better.”

The next chapter of the Midnight Aria story is scheduled to take place July 30 at Fort Erie in the Prince of Wales Stakes, the 1 3/16-mile dirt race that is the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

“He broke his maiden on the dirt at Gulfstream, and he trains 90 percent of the time on dirt here,” said Nick Gonzalez, noting that Midnight Aria has finished in the money in all three of his Polytrack outings and all four of his turf attempts. “To me, he’s one of those horses who’s equally as good on every surface.”

River Seven, also contesting the Queen’s Plate for Nick Gonzalez and the Tuccis, finished 10th in the field of 12 while making his third start of the season.

“We were playing catch-up with him ever since he had a little setback after he won the Grey here last fall,” Nick Gonzalez said. “I might have had to do a little bit too much with him, too soon, to get him to July 7. We’ll reassess him and see what we’re going to do.”

The uncle-and-nephew team of Carlo and Lou Tucci, who have been racing as Tucci Stable since 1996, have experienced success in different fashions.

“My uncle and I breed horses, we claim, we buy from sales, we buy privately,” Lou Tucci said. “We do it all, and it seems like we have the best luck with the claimers.”

Few would argue.

The first high-profile claim by the Tuccis was One for Rose, taken for $40,000 from her debut as a 3-year-old in 2002 and trained by Sid Attard.

One for Rose retired as a winner of nine stakes and almost $1.4 million, plus three straight Sovereign Awards in the older-female category, before being sold as a broodmare prospect for $875,000 at Keeneland in 2008.

Other gems acquired by the Tuccis through the claiming box include Just Rushing, haltered for $40,000 in 2005 and the subsequent winner of six stakes; Jungle Wave, taken for $62,500 in 2009 and successful in that year’s Play the King; and Bear’s Chill, the winner of the Kenora off the $62,500 claim last summer, with all three also trained by Attard.

Artie Hot, claimed for $30,000 at Gulfstream in 2007, was trained by Nick Gonzalez and victorious here in that fall’s Ontario Derby and the following summer’s Seagram Cup. Now 9, Artie Hot was reclaimed by the Tuccis for $8,000 from his latest race after having been taken for that price two starts earlier.

“They claimed him to retire him,” Gonzalez said.

For the 35-year-old Campbell, the Queen’s Plate was the biggest win in a career that began in 1995. His previous high, monetarily, came with Apart in the 2010 running of the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Campbell, who moved his tack here from south of the border in 2011, had another big moment Sunday with Solid Appeal, who won the $200,000 Dance Smartly for her second straight Grade 2 stakes win on turf for owners Jim and Susan Hill and trainer Reade Baker.

◗ All-sources handle on Sunday’s 12-race live program totaled $9,739,879, up 15 percent from last year’s Queen’s Plate card and the second-highest total in track history behind only the Breeders’ Cup program in 1996. Last year’s Queen’s Plate Day handle was $8,437,639 for a 12-race card. All-sources handle on the 12-horse Queen’s Plate itself was $2,185,382, down 8 percent from last year’s $2,380,994 bet on a 14-horse field.