Less than two weeks into his career as a journeyman rider, Sal Gonzalez Jr. got the boost he needs this weekend.
Twenty-four hours after riding Blues Traveller to an 11-1 upset in the Rolling Green Handicap at Golden Gate Fields, Gonzalez, 19, rode favored Del Mar Dennis in the $160,800 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park on Sunday.
Looking like The Wicked North's main threat in the upcoming Californian and Hollywood Gold Cup, Del Mar Dennis battled with Thunder Rumble through some swift fractions, put the 1992 Travers winner away, surrendered the lead to Tinners Way in the stretch, then came back on to win by a half-length in 1:40 2/5 for the 1 1/16 miles.
It was the third consecutive victory and fifth in seven starts for the 4-year-old Dixieland Band gelding.
Tinners Way, last after a half-mile, got through inside Del Mar Dennis entering the stretch, took the lead but couldn't last while finishing three lengths ahead of 5-2 second choice Hill Pass.
Lottery Winner was fourth, followed by Thunder Rumble and Excavate, who hasn't won since 1992.
"I'll tell you what, this horse is going to be really good," said Gonzalez, who last rode as an apprentice on May 1. "He missed one workout (May 6) and he still ran great.
"This horse was so fresh he just wanted to go and I couldn't relax him. Finally, at the three-eighths pole he relaxed, but it was too late for him to get any kind of real breather.
"When I saw (Tinners Way) down inside of me, I thought, 'Oops.' But this horse of mine, he just never gave up. Every time he runs, he keeps improving."
Kent Desormeaux, Tinners Way's rider, thought his colt was on his way to his first victory in six American starts.
"This is an unlucky horse," he said. "He runs his eyeballs out every time and hooks horses like Megan's Interco and Del Mar Dennis who run the race of their lives."