Trainer stakes his ‘claimers’

Jul 3, 2001 4:06 AM

Officially, Jack Carava has been training for eight years. But he’s been around horses all his life. His strong suit is claiming horses and moving them up.

Carava was born in Arcadia, home of storied Santa Anita Park. His father, Mike, trained in the late 1970s and early 80s, so it’s little wonder Jack’s passion for horses was inbred early.

“I’ve been around the track since I’ve been a little kid, six or eight years old, but I’m only 35,” said Carava, one of the most consistent trainers on the Southern California circuit, although he has won only a few stakes races and has never won a training championship.

All that could soon change. With less than two weeks remaining in the Hollywood Park meet, Carava is on the verge of his first training crown with 18 wins, two more than Richard Mandella. Carava admits winning the title has merit.

“I’ve finished third a couple of times, so it would be something to win my first title,” Carava said. “But I’m not letting it consume me or make me run horses where I don’t think they’d fit. For my horses that need a little more time, such as my maidens, I plan to wait until Del Mar (July 18). I won’t run them back at the end of this meet.”

While Carava could run as many as 80 horses before the 66-day session ends, he races with a purpose.

“His strong points are that he works hard and he knows what horses will be running against him in his races,” says Richie Silverstein, the agent for Martin Pedroza, who rides most of Carava’s horses. “Jack usually knows his competition and he runs his horses where they can win. Also, he trains into the race first, and then he enters his horses. If a horse doesn’t train up to a race well, he doesn’t run.”

Carava won 45 races last year, 49 in 1999, 52 in 1998 and 59 in 1997, his horses earning an average of $1.5 million in each of those four years.

“We’ve been running pretty hard this year,” Carava said. “Many of my two year olds were getting ready to run, and I was hoping to make one start with them the end of this meet, but a lot of them didn’t pan out. They came down with bucked shins and so forth. They’ll be laid up until Oak Tree (Sept. 26).”

Carava is optimistic that his reputation as a claiming trainer will soon be enhanced.

“I think we’ve really upgraded in the last few months,” Carava said. “I’ve bought a lot of young horses and we’ve paid some (good) money for them. I’ve got some two year olds that have some fairly decent high dollar tags on them. They have some pedigree and a chance to be good ones. I have a really nice Devil’s Bag filly, but she bucked her shins and probably won’t make it back until Oak Tree. And I have a nice In Excess colt but I had to take a chip out of his ankle and he’ll probably need until Oak Tree.

“We’ve got a few others that act all right, but a lot of them were getting a little thin, or weren’t handling their training real good, so we turned them out. Hopefully, we’ll have a strong fall with them. My goal is to stay consistent at all tracks, but we’ve always been pretty fortunate at Hollywood, and I don’t know why. This year I didn’t think that would be the case, since I decided to take the leap and not come here to train. I stayed at Santa Anita and I’ve been shipping all my horses over, so I didn’t think we’d have this kind of meet, but things have been going good. My horses have been in the right place at the right time.”

Trainer Jerry Fanning, one of Carava’s mentors, cites Jack’s fastidiousness as a major reason for his success. “He works hard and he pays attention,” Fanning said. “He’s a good watcher and he remembers. He watches a lot of races. If you’re going to claim horses, you’ve got to do that. He’s never claimed any horses from me yet,” Fanning laughed, “but he probably will one day.”

Another reason for Carava’s prosperity is Pedroza. The personable Panamanian has been aboard 15 of Carava’s winners this meet.

“We’ve always been real lucky together,” Carava said. “Martin tries really, really hard and there’s something about him and the way he rides that fits my style. I can’t put my finger on it, but my horses seem to run better for him than they do for a lot other guys. We’ve had good luck with Laffit (Pincay Jr.) and Garrett Gomez, too. But Martin’s a real loyal guy, his agent is loyal, I can get Martin when I want him and that’s a big part of it, knowing I don’t have to worry about jumping from rider to rider and knowing he’s going to ride pretty much anything I ask him.”

Carava hopes Pedroza will soon be riding some of his horses that sport blue blood instead of blue collars.

“We certainly hope to have some stakes caliber horses soon,” Carava said. “It’s always your goal and the only way to get them is to win races and get noticed.”

THE HOMESTRETCH: If the present 60-day drug suspension pending against Bob Baffert sticks, it won’t be the longest ban ever against the trainer. More than a decade ago, when Baffert was exclusively a quarter horse trainer, he was slapped with a suspension of “more than six months” for a drug violation, according to one racing official . . . Neil O’Dwyer, recently retired vice president of racing at Fairplex Park, says he learned of the California Horse Racing Board’s proposed 19-day reduction in the 2002 racing calendar when he read about it the newspaper. “You would think they would notify the parties involved first,” O’Dwyer said, “but they sent out a news release.” . . . Trainer Pico Perdomo, on how Gary Stevens got the mount on Gourmet Girl, who captured the Vanity Handicap in authoritative front-running fashion Saturday for her third Grade I victory: “I told Mr. Tanaka (owner Gary Tanaka) what riders were available and he picked. I said we could have Desormeaux, Solis, McCarron or Stevens, and he selected Stevens. He likes to choose the jockey, and he pays the bills, so I have no problem with it.” . . . When it comes to spinning the truth, trainers take no back seat to politicians and lawyers. Ellis Davis, chart taker for Equibase and a sometime jockeys’ agent, asked his close friend, trainer Bill McLean, if 10-1 morning line shot Hope’s Love could win last Wednesday’s eighth race at Pleasanton. “No chance,” replied the trainer emphatically. Hope’s Love won and paid $62. “And to think I even stayed at McLean’s house the night before the race,” Davis railed.