Santa Anita—Main Office
(626) 447-2145 Office
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858) 792-4488 Office
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Golden Gate Fields
(510) 524-3081 Office
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by Steve Schuelein, Turf Writer
Jack Carava was born in Arcadia Methodist Hospital adjacent to Santa Anita Park and graduated from Arcadia High School a few furlongs away.
Carava, who turns 42 on April 28, is comfortable with a barn that has averaged about $1.5 million in purse earnings annually since 1996.
"I keep about 40 horses all the time," said the personable brown-haired Carava from a seat in the mezzanine boxes overlooking the stretch at Santa Anita recently.
"I enjoy having a big barn, but never had aspirations of a 'mega' barn," said Carava, who trains primarily for Ron Valenta's La Canada Stable. "I keep my finger on everything."
Carava was born into a racing family. "My father, Mike, was working for a feed company when I was born," explained Carava. "He also worked on the starting gate and trained in Northern California for 10 years.
"When I was a kid, he was an assistant to Farrell Jones and John Longden," continued Carava. "My first racetrack memories were of Seattle, where he worked for Longden when I was six years old."
When the family returned to Arcadia, Carava considered becoming a veterinarian. "I went to Pasadena City College for a year and decided I didn't want to go to school that long," said Carava. "One good thing I got out of it was my wife."
Carava and his wife, Cindy, live in nearby Glendora with their daughters Brittany, 14, and Megan, 12. Neighbors in their housing tract include the families of jockeys Alex Solis and Corey Nakatani.
Carava began working on the backside for trainer Joe Griffin in 1984, but shifted to Jerry Fanning when Griffin quit the following year.
"I had met Jerry when he sent my dad horses, and he offered to give me a job," explained Carava. "I learned a lot with Jerry. We had a lot of horses, and it gave me that big-barn situation. Jerry was very good with young horses, and I got to see everything from young horses to older claiming horses.
"Jerry allowed me to keep a few horses on my own on the side, and it worked out very well," continued Carava. "It gave me a chance to make my own mistakes and still have a job."
Carava took out his license in 1986, saddled his first winner--Impulsively--in 1987, and went on his own in 1993. He developed a sharp eye for a good claim. "The claiming end was more self-taught," said Carava. "I watched different claiming trainers through the years and tried to read their minds: why is a horse running in a certain spot? I was handicapping people more than horses."
When Carava first started rolling in the mid-1990's, he rose quickly with owners Mickey Lima and Norm Fritz. "They claimed a lot of horses, and my barn went from about five to 30 in a month and a half," said Carava. "We started winning a lot of races and that got my momentum going."
Carava's breakthrough star was First Intent, whom he claimed for $40,000 in 1995 for the Lima Family Trust and developed into a graded stakes winner. In 1997, at eight, First Intent won the Potrero Grande Handicap at Santa Anita and the Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar.
"I was looking to claim him for $32,000, but didn't like a tendon," recalled Carava. "When he came back for $40,000, Mickey insisted to take him, tendon or no tendon.
"He was nothing when he was younger," said Carava of the late bloomer. "He kind of found his niche in Southern California as a late-running sprinter. He had the pedigree. He was a half-brother to Gundaghia (a stakes winner). He was retired at nine and given to a girl as a riding horse."
The Bing Crosby turned out to be a lucky stake for Carava, who won it for a second time in 2006 with 23-to-1 longshot Pure as Gold to give the trainer his first Grade 1 victory. (It was Grade 2 when he won it the first time.)
Like First Intent, Pure as Gold was claimed by a persistent owner, in this case Valenta. "We claimed him for $100,000," said Carava. "We got outshook on him in earlier races for $40,000 and $50,000. I thought $100,000 seemed like a stretch but Ron didn't. It worked out good."
Valenta, a former storage company owner from La Canada, and Carava have been together for 12 years. "He started with a small portion of a $16,000 claimer named Colorado Swinger," recalled Carava of the start after he had been introduced to Valenta by another client.
"Ron says he's semi-retired, but he works a lot for a guy who's semi-retired," said Carava kiddingly of his primary owner. "He's looking to take it (the stable) to a different level."
The star of the stable the last two years has been Epic Power, a seven-year-old gelding who has turned into one of the leading California-bred grass horses in the state since being claimed for $40,000 in March, 2006.
Claimed seven times during a lengthy career, Epic Power made his first stakes start a winning one in the $175,000 California Cup Mile in 2006 at Santa Anita. Carava said the horse transformed his career after he overcame nervousness and bleeding problems, crediting exercise riders Miguel Martinez and Arturo Alvarado for the turnaround.
Carava breathed a sigh of relief that he did not lose the horse in a claiming race at Del Mar in 2006. Another trainer put in a claim form for the horse, but the claim was voided on a technicality because the form was filled out improperly.
"He has earned nearly $500,000 for us," said Carava of one of the best claims in California this side of Lava Man. "He's a hard-trying horse. I keep him happy and healthy and haven't overrun him."
Also victorious in the Khaled and Korbel stakes on the Hollywood Park turf in 2007, Epic Honor has recorded 12 firsts, 12 seconds, and 11 thirds in 54 starts during an illustrious career.
Carava is happy that Valenta is looking in new directions to bolster the stable. "It's getting tougher and tougher to claim in California," said Carava. "It makes buying young horses and private purchases necessary."
Valenta has even gone to Europe to buy three or four horses in the barn. "He bought Mr. Napper Tandy privately last summer after he raced in England and Ireland," said Carava of a four-year-old colt who showed high-level promise with a second-place finish in the Sir Beaufort Stakes this winter.
Carava made the most of an opportunity to train for Golden Eagle Farm, winning the 1998 Cal Cup Juvenile and 1999 Silky Sullivan Stakes at Golden Gate Fields with Sunday Stroll and the 1998 Boo La Boo Stakes at Santa Anita with Mother's Meeting.
"I trained on and off for them for about six years," said Carava, who was given chances when Gayle Van Leer, Rick Taylor, and Barry Knight served as racing manager for the Ramona-based power.
Carava won his first training title in 2001 when he edged Bob Baffert, 22-21, during the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet on a victory by Kipper's Kitten on closing day.
"It was a big surprise that year because I stayed at Santa Anita and shipped over because I didn't think I had enough horses to stay over at Hollywood Park," said Carava. "Everything clicked.
"All the owners got into it in the last quarter," added Carava. "It was great for barn morale and probably meant more to us than for a stable that has won a lot of times."
To show the victory was no fluke, Carava led the 2002 Oak Tree meet with 14 wins, five more than the runner-up. "We won 14 races in a short amount of time," recalled Carava. "It was an unbelievable meet."
Carava's stable includes 21 employees, headed by foreman Carlos Santamaria, an eight-year veteran. Carava, the local boy who made good, hopes to make his mark again in 2008.
Edwin J. Gregson Foundation
Stable Area Workers
Call: (626) 447-2145