The first and only other time thoroughbred trainer Nick Gonzalez won the Queen's Plate was in front of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II with Big Red Mike in 2010.
How did he celebrate the big win? With a Big Mac, making a stop along the Queen Elizabeth Highway on his way back to Fort Erie.
After a wire-to-wire victory with 16-to-1 shot Midnight Aria on a rainy Sunday, Gonzalez said his wife and training partner Martha was going to let him stay in Toronto so they could celebrate this Queen's Plate triumph together.
"It was a great team effort from my crew," Gonzalez said as he gathered with reporters 30 minutes after the narrow victory for Tucci Stables and jockey Jesse Campbell over the 8-5 favourite, Up with the Birds.
"A lot of credit goes to my dear wife. She's irreplaceable. She would be the one here talking you guys. It's always a Team Gonzalez thing for us. I feel good for Lou and Carlos [Tucci], too. They've been in the business for 40 years. They have been so conscientious and grateful for their horses.
"There could not have been two more deserving people."
The night before Gonzalez claimed the latest star in Canadian horse racing for $35,000 US in South Florida at Gulfstream Park last January, he called his owners separately to make sure they were on board with the decision. It turned out the Ontario-bred three-year-old colt was the son of a Shebandowana, a chestnut mare that Carlos and his nephew Lou used to own.
Big win for Ontario
Shebandowana didn't amount to much, but the racing Gods smiled on Gonzalez and the Tuccis with Midnight Aria. In fact, this simply was a nice win for the troubled horseracing scene in Ontario period.
The racing scene was hurt when Ontario Lottery and Gaming announced a plan 15 months ago to take away the slots from Ontario tracks. The plan has stalled, but the strategy crippled thoroughbred and harness racing in this province. Many jobs have been lost.
"It was very important," Lou Tucci replied, when asked about the importance of an Ontario-bred horse winning this race. "I hope the existing new [Ontario Liberal] government will take a look at this day in general and realize that they haven't been supporting racing. Racing has supported the province."
The Queen's Plate handle was a record $9.7-million on Sunday.
For the love of racing
Nick Gonzalez got his start in racing at Fort Erie, Ont. He was born and raised in nearby Niagara Falls, N.Y., but moved to Fort Erie because he was smitten with thoroughbred racing. He won two races his first summer in 1976 and only three more the next year.
But he really hit the bonanza a few years later when he visited Woodbine to claim a horse and fell in love with that horse's groom, Martha. They've been together for 30 years, married for 27.
For the most part, Martha, born in France and raised in North Bay, trains the horses at Woodbine. Nick takes care of the couple's string at Fort Erie. They've only had three horses run in the Queen's Plate, the other was River Seven, which finished 10th on Sunday.
Now Midnight Aria gets a chance to win the second race of Canada's triple crown in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 30.
"Yes it would be," said the 61-year-old Nick Gonzalez, when asked if it would be special to win this race on his home track.
Campbell was the most emotional of the victorious group. His eye watered and his voice quivered as he described the 1 1/4-mile trip around Woodbine's dampened poly track. Even though, it had rained for a good 75 minutes leading up to the big race, the poly track was not sloppy.
The win capped off a wild day for Campbell. He fell off a horse when it collapsed after the finish line in an early race. He then rebounded to win the Dance Smartly Stakes aboard Solid Appeal, four races before the Queen's Plate.
The 35-year-old Campbell was raised in Wisconsin, but developed as a jockey in Chicago. Toronto, however, became his new home since 2011.
"I fell in love with this place. It's been a blessing," he said.
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