All American: Five Bar High

Jock-turned-trainer JJ Gonzales has a flush hand in the All American Derby.

Q-Racing Journal

Five Bar Cartel and trainer JJ Gonzales. PHOTO: Richard Chamberlain

James J. “JJ” Gonzales used to ride – that was six years and a few pounds ago – but now he has made a successful transition to training.

On Sunday afternoon, the 38-year-old ex-jockey who rode in million dollar races and took By By JJ to the winner’s circle of the 2003 All American Futurity (G1) will send out his first starter in a seven-figure race, Five Bar Cartel in the $1,920,887 All American Derby (G1).

“I didn’t have Five Bar Cartel last year,” Gonzales says. “He was in California – Danny Montes, a good friend of mine, trained him. They just sent him to me this summer. They called me and asked if I had room for this horse. I said if I don’t, I’ll make room. They sent him out here, we worked him a couple times and he worked super good, and he ran good. He’s a good horse.”

Bred by Esmeralda Flores, Five Bar Cartel is by Corona Cartel out of the Grade 1-winning Dash Ta Fame mare Five Bar Molly, who earned $187,109 and is the dam of stakes winner and Grade 1-runners Fly Bar Special (by Strawfly Special, $110,787) and Mollys Cartel (by Corona Cartel, $150,163) and Grade 1-placed Freedom Choice (by A Regal Choice, $281,423).

Five Bar Cartel as a yearling was repurchased for $100,000 in the 2012 Los Alamitos Equine Sale. In February 2013, the chestnut colt was acquired by Jorge Carmona’s San Gregorio Racing Stables Inc. of Mira Loma, California. San Gregorio is a co-owner of One Dashing Eagle, who won the 2012 All American Futurity (G1) and was that year’s world champion.

Five Bar Cartel was last year’s champion 2-year-old colt, and returned to the races in the All American Derby trials. The colt last year won five of seven starts, including the Ed Burke Million Futurity (G1), and earned $654,368. He was also a finalist in the Grade 1 Golden State Million and Los Alamitos Two Million futurities, and now has a record of 8-5-1-0 and $655,358.

“The Derby trials were his first race since December,” Gonzales says. “He had a tough year, he ran hard, so they gave him some time off. We got him up here at the beginning of the summer, worked him a couple of times and pointed him to the trials. We thought if everything goes good, we’ll qualify him.

“We had some luck and we made it to the final,” he says. “I look for him to run really big back in the finals, just for the fact that the trials was his first race, he’s got some more air in him now, he’s got some conditioning and he came back sound, and so if we get a little bit of racing luck, I promise you he’ll be in the mix.”

Gonzales should know what he’s talking about.

“I rode my last race September 12, 2008,” Gonzales says. “That was when I retired from riding, and ran my first horse (as trainer) in mid-December down in El Paso at Sunland Park. Now I’ve got a really good one. I’m glad to have Five Bar Cartel. He’s a professional. He’s just a professional athlete. You can’t ask for nothing more from a horse than what he is.

“He’s a beautiful horse – well made, well balanced, very mentally smart,” Gonzales continues. “He’s a good animal. Very classy. Goes to the track, takes care of his business, comes back to the barn, rests all day and eats good. There are very few horses like him, I can promise you that.”

So that, of course, begs the question: Would JJ have liked to have ridden him?

Gonzales laughs.

“Oh, yes! Yes, of course.”

But instead, the jockey-turned-trainer has Five Bar Cartel in his barn. Until Sunday afternoon, when he’ll get him out to run in the All American Derby.

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