05/28/2007 11:00PM

Known for claimers, Carava can handle stakes, too

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Trainers like Jack Carava are the bread and butter of the game. A 41-year-old Southern California fixture, Carava has made a career playing the claiming game - and playing it pretty darn well. And those who play Southern California races know that any Carava acquisition bears watching.

Carava's father, Mike, trained horses in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and that's where the younger Carava cut his training teeth. From there he went to work for Joe Griffin in 1984, and later that year signed on with Jerry Fanning, a longtime successful trainer on the circuit. After years of taking it in, Carava struck out on his own in 1993.

The numbers show he's learned his lessons well. As expected, some of his best work comes on the claim. He's a strong 18 percent first off a claim, and it's not like he gets them for one good start and then they go to the side of a milk carton. He's 19 percent second time off a claim. In fact, once Carava gets them on the right path, they tend to stay there. He's a strong 23 percent with horses who won their previous start.

While Carava is best known for his work with claimers, his numbers up and down his resume are solid and consistent. He's 13 percent on dirt, 15 percent on turf. He's 14 percent sprinting, 15 percent routing. And in this new sythentic-track era of racing, his early results are quite promising - he has a win rate of 36 percent on such footing.

To pigeonhole Carava as a claiming trainer would be wrong, and potentially harmful to your wallet. It all started back in the mid-1990s. He claimed First Intent for $40,000 and turned him into Arizona's champion older horse in 1996. First Intent did damage in Southern California as well - he won Grade 2 Potrero Grande and Grade 3 Bing Crosby. Just last year, Carava claimed Epic Power for $40,000. That move has paid high dividends, as Epic Power won the California Cup Mile at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in the fall.

Again last year, Carava showed he could handle a top sprinter when Pure as Gold emerged on the scene with a splendid victory in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar. Pure as Gold, however, came back to be a modest fourth in the Grade 1 Ancient Title at Oak Tree at Santa Anita. He was found afterward to have bone chips in a knee, and underwent surgery. He's being pointed for a summer return, and if he is able to come back at full strength, a Bing Crosby title defense wouldn't be out of the question.

Carava has also dabbled with imports. The promising Star Inside, a winner of 3 of 6 in Ireland before coming to the United States, resides in Carava's shed row. He showed ample promise in Ireland, finishing second to the highly regarded Anton Chekhov in a stakes there last fall.

Things haven't gone too well for Star Inside so far. He finished sixth in the La Puente at Santa Anita on April 14, then sixth in the Alcatraz at Golden Gate on May 19. But those are just his first two U.S. outings, and many an import has taken a while to get adjusted to new surroundings. There's also a laziness factor, according to Carava.

"We've had him about six months, but he's just trained okay," Carava said. "He hasn't shown a whole lot in the mornings, but we're hoping he's a little more horse in the afternoons. His race record speaks for itself.

"He came over with high expectations and he's one of those horses who doesn't have a lot of conditions for 3-year-olds, so the La Puente is a race where we kind of had to start him and see what happens."