Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Sunday, September 30, 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/30/2012 #

In Today's Notes: Arlington's Leo Gonzalez Serving 'Partners for Progress'; Suntracer, Mister Marti Gras Get Sunday Breezes; Arlington Jockey Miguel Mena Now a Father

If ever there was a match made in heaven, it was exemplified once again a little less than two months ago when a large group of Arlington jockeys lent their time and expertise to a group of youngsters at nearby stables in Wauconda, Illinois.

Those youngsters, all with various types of disabilities, are enrolled in "Partners For Progress," a non-profit organization that provides unique equine therapy-based programs for individuals with cognitive, physical, emotional and social disabilities.

What better fit could there be than to have a contingent of jockeys to provide assistance to such individuals? It was more than a century ago that the first study was done to evaluate the value of riding horses as a therapy tool because the dimensional movement of the horse provides stimulation to the rider that normalizes both physical and mental activity. This form of treatment helps improve posture, balance and joint movement and also provides psychological improvement.

However, as Arlington's jockeys have discovered, the help provided is a two-way street. Many of these expert equine athletes have come away from the session insisting that they got more than they gave by participating.

Arlington assistant clerk of scales Leo Gonzalez, a former jockey whose youngest son was born six years ago with a form of autism labeled to be within the PDDNOS spectrum of that developmental disorder, is an excellent spokesperson for "Partners For Progress."

"When I asked all these riders in the room to help out with Partners For Progress, they all came away from that afternoon saying they had a lot of fun and were willing to help out in any other way they could," said Gonzalez. "These jockeys at Arlington are a very giving group of people and realize they are fortunate enough to be able to help out with financial contributions. When I asked them for donations this summer every single rider that was in the room that day contributed. I don't know what their gifts totaled this year – those results will be announced at the Hoedown dinner at Arlington Oct. 13 – but last year the total came to about $3,000.

"My son has a highly-functional form of autism," said Gonzalez, "but some people with more severe forms need constant assistance. I know all about that because I had a brother-in-law that became a quadriplegic at the age of 13 as a result of a car accident. He lived until he was 23 but needed constant assistance for the last 10 years of his life.

"I've been married to my wife Marie for almost 30 years," said Gonzalez, "but believe me, when our youngest son was born, it changed both our lives. My wife had to quit her job and go back to school, but when she completes her courses she'll be a qualified teacher to help people with autism.

"That's a great feeling – being able to give back," said Gonzalez. "Sometimes we all need to take a step back and realize how fortunate we are."

Team Block's Suntracer, winner of Arlington's $100,000 Illinois Owners Stakes in his last start Aug. 11 and third in Arlington's Grade III Stars and Stripes before that, breezed five furlongs in 1:02 flat Sunday morning at Arlington in advance of the $100,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap at Hawthorne Oct. 6.

With regular rider Eddie Perez aboard, Suntracer got the last quarter in 23 flat and then galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.60.

Also on the work tab Sunday for trainer Chris Block was Lothenbach Stables' Mister Marti Gras, who went five furlongs in 1:01.60 in preparation for the Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup Oct. 6.

Mister Marti Gras most recently finished second in Arlington's Grade III Washington Park Handicap Sept. 1 after winning the 2011 edition of that race.

Arlington jockey Miguel Mena, who will finish among the top 10 Arlington jockeys this summer despite arriving late to the local meeting, became a father for the first time when daughter Naelah Isabel was born on Saturday.