On his way to leading all Maryland trainers in wins for a fifth consecutive year, Claudio Gonzalez earned his 1,000th career victory when MCA Racing Stable’s He’s a Shooter rolled to his third straight triumph in Thursday’s seventh race at Laurel Park in Laurel, Md.
Ridden by Kevin Gomez, He’s a Shooter ($5.60) was sent off as the 9-5 favorite in a field of seven. He ran seven furlongs on a fast main track in 1:23.80 to win the entry-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up by 6 ¼ lengths. It was Gonzalez’s only starter of the day.
“It’s special. It’s not easy to win one race, but to win 1,000 races is something special,” Gonzalez said by phone from his native Chile, where he watched Thursday’s race with his parents. “I came last week to celebrate my mother and father and today is my last day here. I was waiting a week for 1,000 and on my last day, we did it.”
Breaking from the far outside, Gomez positioned He’s a Shooter, a 3-year-old gelded son of noted Maryland sire Great Notion, in the clear three wide as 18-1 long shot Benandjoe went the opening quarter-mile in 23.30 seconds with Going to the Lead racing third in between the two leaders. He’s a Shooter rolled up to challenge and take the lead midway around the turn, straightened for home in front and opened up through the lane.
He’s a Shooter has now won three of his four starts since returning from a four-month freshening in August. His win streak has come by 28 ½ combined lengths.
“He needed some time off and once he came back he proved that he’s a nice horse,” Gonzalez said. “Kevin did a good job. He got good position on the outside and there wasn’t a lot of speed, so he did the right thing and kept him just off the lead and rode him just right.”
Gonzalez, a 44-year-old cancer survivor, has been Maryland’s overall leading trainer by wins since he relocated full-time from New Jersey in 2017. He owns or shares 17 training titles between Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course, including both full meets in 2021 – Laurel’s winter stand and the extended Preakness Meet at Pimlico.
Based at Laurel, Gonzalez has won stakes this year in Maryland with Harpers First Ride in the Deputed Testamony, Miss Leslie in the Weber City Miss, and Completed Pass in the King T. Leatherbury.
“It’s not only me. All my team does a really good job,” Gonzalez said. “We do the right thing with the horses all the time and try every day to get better and better. I want to say thank you to everyone. Everyone sees my name there but there’s a lot of people behind me.”
Gonzalez originally aspired to be a jockey until he grew too big. He first came to the U.S. as a teenager in November 1995 and soon found work galloping for countryman Juan Serey, New Jersey’s leading trainer at the time, staying until 2002.
Following a short stint under trainer Gary Contessa, Gonzalez landed with another leading New Jersey trainer in Ben Perkins Jr. Among the top horses that came along during their time together were multiple graded-stakes winners Wildcat Heir and Wild Gams, Grade 3 winner Max Forever and popular local 12-time stakes-winning millionaire Joey P.
While with Perkins, Gonzalez missed six months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008. Following surgery and treatment, he has been in remission since.
According to Equibase statistics, Gonzalez’s first career win came at Laurel with Quiet Tiara on Nov. 14, 2012. He went out on his own the following year and scored his first stakes victory with Princess Perfect in the Jersey Girl Handicap Sept. 21, 2013 at Monmouth Park.
Gonzalez has reached the $1 million mark in season purse earnings every year since 2013 with a high of $5.2 million to go along with 154 wins in 2020. He won a career-best 174 races in 2019.
A multiple stakes winner over his career, Gonzalez has three graded victories on his resume – the 2017 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) with Chublicious, and the historic Pimlico Special (G3) with Harpers First Ride and Charles Town Oaks (G3) with Fly On Angel, both in 2020.
Other stakes winners for Gonzalez include Afleet Willy, Never Stop Looking, Sweet On Smokey, Completed Pass, Eastern Bay, Lebda, Behemoth, My Magician, Next Best Thing and Miss Leslie.
“When I started, I just wanted to win my first race,” Gonzalez said. “After that, like I say all the time, if you work hard, you’re going to win races.”
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