Julio Canani, trainer of Breeders’ Cup-winning horses, dies

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Julio Canani, who trained three Breeders’ Cup winners and thoroughbred racing’s 2-year-old Eclipse champion filly in 2004, died Friday after a long illness.

He died at a hospital in Pasadena, his daughter Lisa told officials at Santa Anita in nearby Arcadia, where Canani was based. She gave his age as 83, although Canani’s birthdate is listed as Nov. 13, 1938, which would have made him 82.

He had 1,137 winners and purse earnings of over $49 million during his career.

Canani was best known for three Breeders’ Cup victories, two in the Mile with Silic in 1999 and Val Royal in 2001, and in the Juvenile Fillies with Sweet Catomine in 2004. She earned the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top 2-year-old filly that year.

In Southern California, Canani won several major races, including the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap with long shot Martial Law, who paid $130.60 to win. He also had major stakes wins at Del Mar and now-closed Hollywood Park.

He never had a starter in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont stakes.

Canani came to the U.S. from Peru as a teenager. He eventually made his way to the racetrack, and worked his way up as a trainer with a mix of guile and wits. He loved to gamble, whether it was on his own horses or those he had seen train in the mornings.

He was known for his sense of humor and fractured English. The character of trainer Turo Escalante in the 2012 HBO series “Luck” was based on Canani and played by actor John Ortiz.

“It was a daunting honor to step into the shoes of the great horse trainer Julio Canani,” Ortiz tweeted. “He was a fascinating yet mysterious mix of every imaginable human quality firing at once. Being around him was never boring, playing him was a priceless gift. RestInPower, Mi Amigo.”

Canani saddled his last horse to a second-place finish on Oct. 23, 2015, at Santa Anita.

That fall, Canani was suspended for 13 months by the California Horse Racing Board after allegations of financial impropriety involving the sale of horses. He applied for reinstatement in 2017, but was denied a trainer’s license, which effectively ended his career.

Besides daughter Lisa and son Nick from his first marriage, Canani is survived by wife Svetlana and their children Isabella and Alexander.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

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Churchill Downs will suspend racing on Wednesday and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.