09/23/2011 4:17PM

Louisiana Downs: Nicks, Eramia climb to the top together

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The trainer-jockey team of Morris Nicks and Richard Eramia have dominated the standings this meet at Louisiana Downs, and when the season ends Sunday both will have achieved significant career firsts. Nicks, the 64-year-old horseman who opened a public stable in 1967, will pick up his first-ever training title. Eramia, a five-time champion jockey in his native Uruguay, will earn his first North American title, a feat the 32-year-old has been striving for since 2005.

Both title races ended up being blowouts. Nicks had 41 wins heading into Friday’s card, 15 more than his closest rival in the standings. Eramia, meanwhile, had won 124 races at the meet through Thursday, 40 more than second-leading jockey Don Simington. As for the Nicks-Eramia team, the pair had gone 39 for 104 through Thursday, for a 37 percent strike rate this meet at Louisiana Downs.

“I think it’s been a happy meet,” Eramia said. “It started very good and finished very good.”

“It made this hot summer not as bad,” added Nicks.

Nicks and Eramia began teaming on a regular basis at the tail end of the Louisiana Downs meet a year ago. They won 8 races from 26 starters in a partnership that was forged after Patrick Valenzuela left Louisiana Downs to resume riding at home in Southern California.

“I started riding for him the last month of the meet,” Eramia said of Nicks.

The success carried over to the 2011 season that opened in May, and it has been particularly meaningful for Eramia. He made a major move in 2005, when he shifted his tack to Florida after spending the first 10 years of his career riding in Uruguay. Eramia had won titles at three different tracks there, and also accounted for such prestigious races as his country’s top event for 3-year-olds, the Group 1 Grand Prix National.

“Because I won a lot of races, I had a good life in Uruguay, but I was not making a lot of money,” said Eramia, who is married with two children. “There’s a big difference in purses.”

So Eramia has spent the past six years making connections in North America. His first stateside win came at Tampa Bay Downs. He then rode at Calder, Sam Houston, Lone Star Park, and Remington before setting up shop in Louisiana. Eramia made the move to this circuit with the help of his current valet, Julio Barela, who is a former leading rider in Uruguay.

“He got me an agent,” Eramia said. “He’s from my country. I rode with him some. When I started, he retired.”

Eramia, whose first mount as a jockey was at 15, pursued racing on his own as the lone member of his family involved in the sport.

“I lived two miles from the racetrack and started as a groom,” he said. “I started at 10, 11. I was very young, and I started galloping at like 14 years-old. I started riding in 1995.”

Nicks began training 44 years ago. A Texas native and the father of trainer Ralph Nicks, he has spent the bulk of his career based in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Nicks operates a high-percentage outfit, and has won graded stakes with such horses as Run Johnny and Golden Sonata. His litany of regional stakes winners includes Smitty’s Sunshine, Northern Scene, Tensas Yucatan, and Rhonda Legs.

The latest to join the list is Old Bushmill, a 3-year-old who upset older horses in the $100,000 Louisiana Cup Turf Classic. Other popular winners for the stable this meet included Mr. Woodrow, a candidate for the $75,000 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds on Nov. 25, and Eddie’s Band, who earned a 102 Beyer Figure when he won a maiden special weight in May. Such runners played an important role in Nicks’s strong showing at Louisiana Downs.

“I have a little better group of horses,” he said. “I had a lot of young horses breaking their maidens, and some of them came back and won. Old Bushmill, he came back and won a stakes. It’s strictly horses. I have a good, balanced stable of horses, winning stakes down to $7,500 claiming races.”

Nicks said another important component for the stable has been Eramia.

“First thing, he’s a good person,” Nicks said. “He’s got a good head on him. He’s also a good size, a strong rider and he makes good decisions in races. That’s the key. He’s got a lot of talent there on making the right decision.”

Eramia said he enjoys working with Nicks because he is personable and professional.

“He’s a very good horseman,” said Eramia.

Eramia will now ride at Delta Downs until the opening of Fair Grounds, while the next stop for Nicks’s stable is Fair Grounds.

◗ Charlie Hukill, an owner and trainer who lost more than 20 horses in a Texas barn fire in February, was leading the Louisiana Downs owner standings with 17 wins heading into the races Friday.

◗ There are 243 yearlings cataloged to Tuesday’s annual auction put on by the Breeders Sales Company of Louisiana. It starts at 10 a.m. at the Ike Hamilton Center in West Monroe, La.