A rainy closing day saw Claudio Gonzalez continue his recent domination of the trainer standings while Trevor McCarthy returned to a familiar spot atop the jockey standings and a new face emerged as Maryland's leading rider on a special New Year's Eve program at Laurel Park.
Gonzalez, 42, finished the calendar year-ending fall meet, which began Sept. 7, with 47 wins, 18 more than runner-up Mike Trombetta. It gave Gonzalez a clean sweep of Laurel's three 2018 meets and fifth title in the last six dating back to the 2017 winter-spring stand. He owns eight meet championships overall.
“It's another one and I'm very happy. I have to say thank you to all the owners, all the time they help me with new horses. My help, all my workers, everybody together we have a good team,” Gonzalez said. “There's no secret. We put them in the right spots. My horses aren't 50-1 or 20-1 because we try to put them in the right spot. The owners understand that if we lose one horse and win the race, it's OK.”
With a string of 40 horses at Laurel, Gonzalez ended 2018 as Maryland's leading trainer for the second consecutive year with 111 wins, easily topping his 84 from 2017. He has enjoyed a career year in both victories (155) and purses earned ($14.6 million).
“There are some really good trainers and to have the most wins for the year is big, not only for me, but for the whole team. Everybody is happy with that,” Gonzalez said. “We work very hard to win races and that's what happens when you work hard.
“This year is my best year ever. We have to keep trying and hope to keep improving. Next year we have to try to do the same as this year because it was so good,” he added. “It's not easy to win 150 races. Not every year are you going to do that. We're going to try to continue to win races and not stop.”
McCarthy, 24, finished with 45 wins at the fall meet, with Victor Carrasco, Wes Hamilton, Julian Pimentel and Jorge Vargas Jr. all tied for second at 32. It is the fifth Laurel title for McCarthy and first since the 2017 winter-spring stand, and seventh overall in Maryland including two at legendary Pimlico Race Course.
Maryland's leading rider in 2014 and 2016, McCarthy missed the second half of 2017 with a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery resulting from a spill just eight days after earning his 1,000th career victory. He began 2018 by moving his tack to New York, returning to Maryland in mid-September.
“I just want to say thank you to Laurel Park, thank you to all the owners and trainers that gave me the opportunities,” McCarthy said. “For me it was a little intimidating coming back, being away for so long. Coming back and now back to being leading rider at the meet, that was a huge plus – definitely a big confidence builder.
“I also want to thank all the horses that got me to the winner's circle, and especially all the grooms and hot walkers and exercise riders for preparing them for me and, as a team, getting to the winner's circle,” he added. “This meet has really been a huge meet for me, confidence-wise, and I'm just very happy to be back at Laurel Park.”
McCarthy also credited his agent, Scott Silver, with whom he reunited upon returning to Maryland. On Nov. 10, McCarthy won the Smart Halo Stakes with Congrats Gal and the James F. Lewis III Stakes with Scrap Copper.
“I have to thank Scotty for teaming back up with me,” he said. “We had a lot of success before and for him to take me back and be the leading rider of the meet it means a lot to me.”
Vargas wound up as the leading rider in Maryland for 2018, finishing with 110 wins, four more than Wes Hamilton, and unseating Jevian Toledo, Maryland's leading rider in 2015 and 2017, who was third with 85 wins. Vargas, 23, won Laurel's winter-spring meet title with 52 victories.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be here this year,” Vargas said. “To all the trainers and owners that help me during the year, I can't be more thankful. There's some great riders here, some of the best on the East Coast. I'm blessed.”
Monday's program saw mandatory payouts of $211.94 in the 20-cent Rainbow 6 for tickets with four of six winners, $5,152.80 in the 50-cent Late Pick 5 for tickets with four of five winners, and $591in the $1 Super Hi-5.
Laurel Park opens its 2019 winter meet with a special nine-race New Year's Day program. First race post time is 12:30 p.m.
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