When Leandro Goncalves piloted the 6-year-old mare Seeking Reason to a two-and-a-half length victory in the second race at Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday for her second consecutive triumph, it marked the ninth consecutive card Goncalves has ridden at least one winner.
Like any professional athlete, jockeys are capable of getting in ‘the zone,’ where it seems every move they make is correct and they keep coming home on top. But the ongoing success of Goncalves – who has 58 victories at the midway point of the 2011-12 meeting, 26 more than runner-up Ronnie Allen, Jr. – can be attributed largely to his thorough, professional approach on a day-to-day basis.
Sure, it helps that Goncalves rides a bunch of horses for perennial leading trainer Jamie Ness. But that only begins to explain how the 29-year-old Brazilian finished 2011 third in the nation with 298 victories and is in the top 10 nationally for 2012 with 43, after riding three winners on Sunday’s card.
“He (Goncalves) makes great decisions during a race,” said James McMullen, the trainer of Seeking Reason, after Sunday’s six-furlong claiming win. “He doesn’t make many mistakes, and he doesn’t panic. He had not been on (Seeking Reason) before he rode her the first time this meet (Dec. 23, a fifth-place finish), but he learned a lot in that race he was able to use these past two times.
“She got in a little trouble the first time he rode her. She’s a little nervous, a little anxious and she doesn’t like to be in the mix – she likes to be in the lead or on the outside, away from other horses,” McMullen said. “After she got to the lead today and another horse challenged, he inched her to the outside where she is more comfortable.
“He handles himself professionally all the way around,” McMullen added. “He is also very descriptive of the horses he works in the mornings and what he feels they need.”
Goncalves is always quick to credit his agent, Jimmy McNerney, and the horsemen who provide his opportunities for success. With each passing day, though, the portrait of a young man ready and eager to excel on a national stage emerges.
Goncalves expects to get such a chance Saturday, when he rides the promising 3-year-old Shared Property for trainer Tom Amoss in the Grade II, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Louisiana Derby Preview Day.
“Sometimes you have a couple of days where you don’t win any races, but I just keep working hard because I have lots of confidence in myself and my agent,” Goncalves said. “I know I’m going to win races as long as I stay healthy and safe.
“It’s easy sometimes when you ride good horses and you might not have to think too much or do much physical work. The cheaper horses, you usually have to do more. But all the jockeys I’ve spoken to in the past told me to ride every race the same. Of course the stakes are more important, but if you want to keep stepping up, you have to try your best every single race.”
Goncalves also is proving himself as a premier turf rider on an almost-daily basis. He almost stole Saturday’s $75,000 Turf Dash aboard the Ness-trained Western Prospector, then returned two races later to win a mile maiden special weight on first-time starter and 22-1 shot Andrew’s Girl for conditioner Edgar Estevez.
Goncalves rode two additional turf winners Sunday. In the eighth race, he guided the H. Graham Motion-trained 4-year-old gelding Under Control (like him, a Brazilian-bred) to an impressive win for owner Live Oak Plantation.
Then, in the 10th, he won aboard 4-year-old gelding Concorde Express on the turf for owner-trainer Butch Silva.
“I just like to be patient on the grass,” he said. “I always watch Julien Leparoux and John Velazquez on the grass, and I watched Gary Stevens a lot before he retired. They always take their time, and that is pretty much how the trainers I ride for want me to ride, so it is working out.”
While Goncalves enjoys a healthy lead in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings, Ness has already run away and hidden in the trainer standings. His two victories from three starters Sunday – with 5-year-old mare Slewsville in the third race and 3-year-old filly Sugadadeze in the ninth, her third consecutive triumph at the meet – gives Ness 45 winners from 98 starts, a virtually unheard-of 46 percent win rate.
Richard Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., the 2011 Eclipse Award Leading Owner runner-up for whom Ness trains exclusively, is the track’s leading owner at the halfway point with 45 winners. Midwest leads the nation in 2012 with 77 victories and purse earnings already in excess of $1 million.
Ness, who is gunning for his sixth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training crown, is on pace to eclipse his own track record of 68 winners set during the 2007-08 season. He leads the nation’s trainers in 2012 with 64 victories total and is in the top 12 in purse earnings with almost $800,000.
With his three victories Sunday, Goncalves was matched by Ademar Santos, who rode three winners on the card. Santos won the first race on the 3-year-old filly Black Tie Voyage for trainer Derek Ryan; the fifth on 4-year-old filly Media Lady for Javier Negrete; and the seventh on 8-year-old gelding Summerlucky for owner-trainer Ron Potts.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcasting, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.