06/29/2006 11:00PM

Canani hopes for fireworks


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nick Canani made the life-changing move from his native Southern California to Kentucky on the Fourth of July in 2005, and he would like nothing more than to receive a one-year anniversary gift a couple of days early.

The best thing Canani could get? A victory by the star of his 14-horse stable, Very Vegas, in the $70,000 Zenobia Empress, the Sunday feature at Churchill.

"That'd be so sweet," said Canani. "I love the way the mare is coming into the race. If she runs as well as she has been, we're going to run her next at Calder," in the $250,000 Distaff Turf Sprint Championship on Aug. 5.

, bred and owned by the Everest Stable of Jeff Nielsen, has won 4 of 8 races since Canani assumed her training last fall. All but one of her last five races have been exceptionally good, and she enters the Zenobia Empress, a five-furlong turf race, as the logical favorite in a field of 11 fillies and mares.

After a nose defeat in the Mamzelle Stakes and an impressive allowance triumph, Very Vegas was withheld from the June 10 Excitable Lady, a turf sprint won by Pretty Jane, another Zenobia Empress entrant.

"We had her out at Crestwood Farm, where she was born, and just kind of let her relax out in the sun," Canani said of Very Vegas. "She ought to run great Sunday. She loves the turf and the five-furlong distance."

Canani, the 32-year-old son of veteran trainer Julio Canani, has operated a public stable since 1997. He has been moderately successful since moving here last year and says he plans to remain indefinitely. "I am really enjoying Kentucky," he said.

Including Very Vegas and , a French-bred 4-year-old who is making her U.S. debut after having been purchased last December at the Tattersalls sales in England by co-owner and trainer Fred Seitz. In six races in France at 2 and 3, Stella Blue was competitive with the likes of Gorella and Mirabilis, both of whom rank among the top filly-mare turfers in North America today.

The Zenobia Empress is carded as the ninth of 10 races Sunday, when two allowances also are on tap. After live programs are run here Monday and Tuesday, Churchill goes dark until Friday.