Nick Canani is claiming horses faster than racing’s live fan base is dwindling.
That could be bad news for rival trainers in Southern California, and worse news for racing secretaries, should the 30-year-old son of trainer Julio Canani take his horses and leave for parts unknown. On Breeders’ Cup weekend alone, Canani claimed eight horses at Santa Anita.
But breathe easy. Nick, whose claims in Southern California since his arrival in the past two months were approaching 50 and counting at press time, ain’t going nowhere. He intends to race most of his new buys in the Golden State, especially since he’s received stalls at Hollywood Park for the man he trains for, Michael Gill, the runaway leading owner in victories and money won in the United States through Dec. 1. In a remarkable display of perpetuity, Gill this year had started 2,059 horses, 95 more than his closest competitor, and won 401 races, 185 more than his nearest rival.
"We want to race here and I don’t see what we’re doing wrong," Canani said, addressing the controversial Gill’s ravenous claiming method. At Gulfstream last season, Gill smashed the record for wins by an owner with 88, but set the game aghast when he had one of his veterinarians amputate a leg of one of his horses after it was put down following a breakdown in a race.
"It would’ve been hard for us to be denied stalls and we got them at Hollywood, but they won’t give us as many stalls as we need at Santa Anita so I’m going to stay at Hollywood and ship there when I have to run," Canani said.
One immediate beneficiary of Canani’s return to Southern California with his avaricious client has been jockey Martin Pedroza and his long-time agent, Richie Silverstein. Canani took a few days to find the winner’s circle, but soon struck gold, winning three races in three days at Hollywood. Each winner was ridden by Pedroza, who made hay while a handful of top jocks were out of town.
"I’m always grateful when the top riders travel, but the horses Martin rode were horses he had been riding," Silverstein explained. "I got lucky when the racing secretary used some five-horse fields and some horses separated against each other. With seven winners in three days, three for Nick Canani, I had some live horses in fields that weren’t very large in a short span of time. That gives the illusion that we’re on the roll of a lifetime. It’s happened before and I pray it happens again."
Silverstein and Canani conducted business in the past, before Nick took a brief sojourn East to align with Gill.
"There was no arrangement (in getting first call) with Nick," Silverstein said. "He claimed two horses that Martin had ridden, Mental Floss and Spicy Stuff. I had asked to ride them back and I stayed on them. He asked me to ride some horses for him when Martin had days and I couldn’t ride them, obviously, and they didn’t win. In the interim he had Martin work some horses for him. One day Martin worked four, the next day he worked nine and found a few he liked. The horses got in and they won."
Did they ever. Through Dec. 5, Pedroza had won with 12 of 41 mounts (29 percent), jumping into fifth in the Hollywood jockey standings.
"We were definitely in the right place at the right time," Silverstein said. "Nick didn’t win with the first five horses he ran and then went three for nine and all three of those were with Martin."
Silverstein and Pedroza would shackle Canani with a ball and chain rather than let him leave town.
"I sure hope he stays," Silverstein said. "That was the game plan once he got here and got rolling."
THE HOMESTRETCH: If Pat Valenzuela wins the Santa Anita riding title, he’ll do it spotting his rivals a huge handicap. The 41-year-old jockey is expected to serve an accumulation of suspensions from earlier this year at the start of Santa Anita’s 84-day winter/spring meet on Dec. 26. "Don Calabria (Valenzuela’s attorney) handles most of that business, but at this time it looks like we’ll serve the first three weeks of the meet," said Valenzuela’s agent, Nick Cosato. "I haven’t been formally told that yet by Don and until I hear that from him I wouldn’t say it’s a definite, but that’s the way it looks right now. If we do start the New Year three weeks down, that will give everybody (else) a pretty good head start." If Valenzuela wins the autumn Hollywood crown, he would become the first rider since Chris McCarron in 1983 to capture all major titles in Southern California in the same calendar year. Despite his passion and skills, Valenzuela has yet to join icons like Jerry Bailey and Pat Day as a dominant national stakes presence. "We’re always open to going out of town and riding a good horse," Cosato said. "It’s just that our business is pretty good here and you hate to give up what you have unless the horse (out of town) is super-live." . . . Victor Espinoza, currently battling Valenzuela for the Hollywood crown, will be at Happy Valley racecourse in Hong Kong this weekend. He’ll represent the United States in the sixth International Jockeys’ Championship on Wednesday, and ride Sarafan for Neil Drysdale in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Mile on Sunday.